3/14/10

Review: Green Zone (2010)


Paul Greengrass's Green Zone, a fictional "true story" based in part upon the non-fiction work by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City (which I have not read), about the beginning of the Iraq War and the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction, constructs a fairly believable allegory which fits in broad strokes what we now know really took place as the Bush-Cheney administration media-flogged our nation into its desired war.

It's also a pretty neat military suspense thriller with twists and turns which are expertly handled and explicated. It's the smart kind of action picture which not only keeps the audience guessing, but thinking, as political posturing and decision-making intertwine with combat realities in some stunning montages, especially toward the end of the film.

Matt Damon plays weapon-hunter Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, skeptical of the intelligence he is tasked to investigate, as mission after mission turn up not only no weapons of mass destruction, but no reason to believe anyone could have ever credibly believed or reported they had ever been at the locations indicated.

His expressed skepticism at an otherwise gung-ho briefing suddenly brings him to the attention of major players in the arrangement and prosecution of the War, including CIA officer Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), who is clearly based upon New York Times reporter Judith Miller, and a top Pentagon official with broad field discretion and political backing from Washington, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear)--each, of course, for very different reasons.

My major complaint about the film is how it emblemizes the foreign forces at work in Baghdad in these four characters. It's understandable for dramatic reasons, of course, to abridge the story in this way to tell it in an involving way, but on the other hand, it takes away from the feeling of everyday life in unique circumstances not to focus more on particular characters, particularly characters in Roy Miller's normal sphere of contact. It sharpens conflicts which really must have played out more messily, but detracts slightly from the realism and believability of exactly how they're portrayed here.

Two major Iraqi characters seem more effective at illustrating the conflict from that viewpoint. One is mostly a fleeting but frightening shadow on the run, General Al Rawi (Igal Naor), the man who supposedly would have been in charge of Saddam's major-weapons programs, if they had existed. He doesn't say much, but Naor exudes a menace and power, as well as fear of and pragmatism in the face of imminent death, which instantly accomplishes just what is needed in the story, every time. He makes Al Rawi stare out of the eyes of a dictator's strongman. The second character is Miller's translator, Seyyed Hamza (Said Faraj), who gets much more time and attention to develop properly than most of the other major characters. Not much more can be said about the character of Hamza, however, without giving a lot away, but he has some striking monologues which communicate obvious, heartfelt emotions with more complex shadings which make him both an individual and representative of more unseen Iraqis, or those shown only in the background of this story.

The acting is all superb, rescuing some plot points which seem to strain at times and smoothing out the final product with, often, sheer acting bravura and dedication. Damon's performance in particular paints over more than one or two incidents which seem starkly contradictory or even false in terms of what a similar real-life Roy Miller probably would have done, or been able to do. In his portrayal, he doesn't make them stick out like the sore thumbs they sort of inescapably are. (No spoilers!) Amy Ryan looks about as little like Judith Miller as physically possible, but she embodies this character completely, sometimes almost sneakily.

Kinnear is stolid, and some scenes from the trailer which hint at a smarmier and less interesting role than the one he plays in the film are not what they seemed. Hey, misdirection in a trailer, what a concept. I approve--though, in this case, I must say, it created some truly lowered expectations which might have made me lean toward skipping the film altogether and thus miss having them pleasantly dashed.

Green Zone tells an involving and important story suspensefully and well, and brings a particularly tragic and duplicitous period in our recent national history to light. It makes the audience consider and reconsider events as they must have happened (as opposed to the fictional retelling--of the film, of the contemporaneous media narrative) in immediate, dramatic and perhaps hitherto unconsidered ways. Greengrass's previous "true story" movies, and the action mettle he displayed in his previous collaborations with Matt Damon, the second and third Bourne films, suggest a trajectory which certainly and appropriately runs through Green Zone. It's very, very good.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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