- Directed by Paul Greengrass
- Written by Brian Helgeland
- Starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear
- Classification: 14A
With Oscar champ The Hurt Locker about to return to theatres, there will now be two Iraq movies at the multiplex for your comparison. For all the questions about the military veracity of The Hurt Locker, it must be a model of procedural rectitude compared to Green Zone, a truly bizarre mash-up of real history and political thriller.
Green Zone, which reunites director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon from the last two Bourne movies, tries to tap into outrage about the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 for commercial movie thrills. Based on the plausible premise that the Bush administration lied, or at best manipulated intelligence about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, as a pretext for the invasion, the film reshuffles familiar events and characters into a Bourne-style conspiracy thriller.
Matt Damon plays Ray Miller, an army warrant officer in charge of finding WMDs in the months following the invasion. Each WMD site that Miller and his squad visit turns up empty, and while they dodge snipers and fend off crowds of Iraqis that press around their jeeps, they're beginning to think they're risking their lives for no reason.
Miller starts to question the mission, asking impertinent questions during briefings. He also confronts the chief administrator, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear, modelled on Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq), who's ruling Iraq from the safety of the "Green Zone" around the imperial palace. Kinnear's character is the chief villain here, working under pressure from the Bush administration, and in league with a special-forces hitman (Jason Isaacs). Poundstone is also preparing to disband the Iraq army, a decision that causes veteran CIA operative and Miller's covert ally,Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), to predict a civil bloodbath.
Miller also meets a Wall Street Journal reporter (Amy Ryan, standing in for New York Times reporter Judith Miller) who has been unwittingly feeding administration lies to her readers. Finally, operating on a tip from an informant, Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), Miller raids a house where deposed Baathist bigwigs are meeting, and nearly captures a fictional General Al Rawi (Igal Naor), a supposed expert in Iraqi WMDs. Soon, Miller and Poundstone's special ops are going head to head.
Little here makes any logical sense. Miller violates every imaginable military rule, goes where he wants, steals evidence and lies to get inside an Abu Ghraib-style jail to see a prisoner. Along the way, the film reduces policies that caused the deaths of thousands to the equivalent of a first-person-shooter video game.
Occasionally, Greengrass's skills as an action director, the handheld camera and frenetic editing, make the unpalatable at least absorbing, occasionally breathtaking. As well as his trademark handheld shots, there are some startling vistas of Baghdad under attack. In the film's most sustained action sequence - a fire fight at night - the blend of whirling shadows, muzzle flashes and the thrum of helicopter rotors creates an experience that's simultaneously dizzying and claustrophobic, like being strapped to a runaway car down a half-lit mine tunnel.
The film has little to do with the sardonic non-fiction book on which it is based ( Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by former Washington Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran). Screenwriter Brian Helgeland ( L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) is the real culprit here, creating a crude paint-by-numbers fiction that keeps yelling about the importance of the truth while hurtling in the opposite direction.