In addition to being an accomplished technician Brit director Paul Greengrass might just be the most deceptively intelligent filmmaker of our time. Having pioneered his own distinctive brand movie-making with the Bourne sequels, built on tightly wound mysterious unraveling at blistering pace, characterized by hyper-kinetic camera movement and editing, the franchise, at it's center, depicts a moral awakening that resonates deeply with a global population harboring a deep distrust of government and authority in the paranoid, post 9/11 era.
Beginning with that fateful morning in 2001, through the moral dilemmas of an amnesiac assassin, and culminating here with the fruitless search for non-existent WMD's, Greengrass has put together a body of work that signposts our own journey through a harrowing decade of fear and misinformation that have lead to a fundamental realignment of our core values and principles. While Green Zone paints itself as more of the same, with Matt Damon once again the muse leading some to call it The Bourne Insurgency, this is clearly Greengrass' most personal film to date, highlighting a clear beef on the part of it's director. Where as United 93 very carefully guided us through some very difficult, prickly issues without judgment or prejudice, Green Zone reflects a strong feeling of injustice against those many would argue betrayed the public trust in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Somewhat appropriately, we begin in the midst of a total clusterfuck in downtown Baghdad. The constant motion of the camera and the barrage of sounds combine to produce images of extreme disorientation as Warrent Officer Roy Miller (Damon) and his team arrive to execute a search only to be met with chaos. A handful of ill-equipped, ill-prepared marines stand powerless to prevent mass looting, panic, and overwhelming civil unrest. Hampered by sniper fire Miller's team make their way inside a reported weapons factory looking for "choking agents, chemical agents, chemical tipped missles…" and instead find a derelict warehouse filled with "nothing but toilet parts and pigeon shit."
Inconvenient to say the least, especially as the whole world is watching. With the intel clearly a problem the search briefings become media planning sessions where Miller's concerns are dismissed by top brass more preoccupied with PR. Quickly, the war shifts to one fought over cable news cycle trophies between idealists (personified by Greg Kineear's Langley weasel), and the pragmatists (led by Brendan Gleeson's wily spook). Demonstrating a deft hand at subtlety, Greengrass cleverly utilizes the last seven years of cascading revelation as dramatic irony, content to merely gift out the first few inches of rope with which so many would later hang themselves. While the Iraqi people are left without water and power, the eponymous Green Zone headquartered out of Sadam's captured presidential palace is literally a pool party where the Americans are hosting Freedom Convention to unveil their chosen face for this new democracy.
Given that we now know so much of the historical fact and the unfortunate truth, Greengrass maintains a high level of engagement through a calculated subversion of genre expectations, almost to the end. Miller isn't a crusader, he's just a soldier trying to do a difficult, thankless job in impossible circumstances, who rather than flying the flag for all that is good and right spends much of the movie bunny-stunned by the sheer magnitude of the chaos and devastation that confronts him at every turn. The press too, so often portrayed by Hollywood as the last bastion of truth and virtue, and given voice by Amy Ryan in a watered down role, are painted as naive and foolish. At best they are inept, and at worst guilty of being complicit in what is arguably the greatest lie of our time. Even that Baathists get a fair shake, with General Al Rawri (the Jack of Clubs) seeing his attempts at cooperation with the Americans and his dreams for a new Iraq spat back at him, reduced to a pithy portrait in a piece of glib iconography.
But, as was perhaps inevitable in a big budget, big studio picture, Greengrass eventually concedes to formula, and somewhere around the three-quarter mark Miller picks himself up, dusts himself off, and becomes the hero that all thrillers demand. Racing Miller against Jason Isaac's black-ops team to the evidence that will blow the WMD issue wide open Green Zone culminates with an extended chase through a midnight maze of alleyways and sidestreets, which while visually arresting is not nearly so interesting as everything that has come before it. Still, it's a small price to pay for what is an immensely enjoyable, articulate, and fair assessment of our collective failings in Iraq. One of the finest filmmakers working today, Greengrass shows us how to gain much by compromising just a little. After all, politics and movie-making have a lot in common.
Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs, Khalid Abdalla
Director: Paul Greengrass
Runtime: 115 Minutes
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