Directed by Paul Greengrass
We used to have to wait a decade before the cinema could fully digest the impact and consequences of that most grave of political failures, the bloodshed of war, between the cessation of hostilities and the emergence of fiction films (documentaries emerge contiguously) that skillfully examined the various consequences and myriad repercussions on both the victors and vanquished nations culture and psyche. It took ten years for a cluster of films to tackle the Indochina campaign via the likes of Hamburger Hill, Full Metal Jacket, Rambo, Missing In Action and the Oscar-garnished Platoon in the eighties. After the “good wars” of Europe were re-fought through the lens finders of Terence Malick and Steven Spielberg in the late nineties the interim period has seen the rise of a 24 hour media culture and its polyphyletic acceleration of cultural assimilation that has compressed by half that period as more and more intriguing texts emerge from the Iraq folly. After the vaporization of the likes of Redacted, In The Valley of Elah and The Kingdom by the twin blasts of critical and commercial IED’s in the form of current critical darling The Hurt Locker, that film finds itself twinned with that most elusive of prey – no, not those phantom WMD’s, but the existence of another exemplary Iraq war movie.
Matt Damon, that most unlikely of Hollywood action men, reunites with the director of his more successful appearances in the Bourne trilogy, Paul Greengrass, in a narrative that is triggered during the embryonic stages of the conflict. Special Forces Operative Miller has been sequestered to a special forces unit who storm suspected nests of WMD during the invasion and subsequent occupation of Baghdad. Exasperated by the consistently fruitless and increasingly dangerous search for the elusive munitions, Miller’s squad eventually hit pay-dirt when an informant tips them off of a senior Ba’ath military meeting happening nearby. After an intense shoot-out, Miller discovers that he has obtained a major piece of intel in the form of some captive generals and a notebook that details the safe house locations of all the senior members of Saddam’s crushed regime listed on the infamous ‘most-wanted’ deck of playing cards. Millers increasing suspicions of the purpose and safety of his orders are disrupted when his Ba’ath prisoners are seized by the sinister Briggs (a moustache-sporting Jason Isaccs) and his US Black-Ops team, who appear to answer only to the senior White House executive Clark Poundstone, portrayed with a glutinous glee by Greg Kinnear. Rejecting the accuracy and genealogy of the secret US intelligence WMD source codenamed ‘Magellan,’ Miller is soon enmeshed in a sinister conspiracy that questions the entire ideology and trumpeted purpose of the war.
This intensely gripping film is a dramatisation of the non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City by journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran and for the most part the talented screenwriter Brian Hegeland (who brought us the Oscar-winning adaption of L.A Confidential) successfully embroiders the colossal failures of the post invasion cluster-fuck into a searingly efficient action chronicle. Matt Damon in combat mode always seemed to act as little more than a hollow cypher in the Bourne movies to drive the narrative from one set-piece to the next, and that approach is replicated here. No time is wasted on any redundant character development, weeping over fallen comrades or wasting precious moments by pining for friends and family back home. As you might expect of a film helmed by Paul Greengrass the trademark epileptic, hand-held, digitally rendered shooting style is in full effect, the focus racks and stumbling zooms suggesting a shell-shocked camera operator (incidentally the same DP as The Hurt Locker, Barry Ackyroyd, is at work here) that echoes the furtive, urgent search at the core of the film.
Whilst The Hurt Locker unfolded in a theatre that felt metaphoric, Green Zone wears its heart on its sleeve and is unashamedly partisan in its political sniping of piercing accuracy, efficiently juxtaposing the increasing carnage of the Baghdad suburbs with the fantasy American microcosm of the occupied Green Zone with its plasma screens racing 24 hour CNN coverage, sunbathing troops, chilled Coca Cola on tap and hot-dogs for lunch. More aggressively, the whole drive of the narrative of those fallacious Weapons Of Mass Destruction, an angle almost completely redacted from the films marketing strategy (if you look at the trailer can even see where the specific phrase was axed from a characters speech) disembowel the arguments and justifications for the illegal, tyrannical invasion, no doubt a supine Studio is anticipating a media backlash to the film’s political perspective and conclusions. The consistently agreeable Amy Adams seems mis-deployed in the minor but critical part of the initially obsequious Wall Street Journal embed Lawrie Dayne, and the lumbering Brendan Gleeson feels slightly uncomfortable as the sympathetic CIA operative Martin Brown, but Kinnear shines as the lubriciously loathsome Poundstone, to my mind a thinly veiled camouflage of real world Coalition diplomat L. Paul Bremmer. Although the film occasionally feels like a slightly more frantic, multi-dimensional level of the most recent Call Of Duty video game, the film succeeds in bringing an essential and important tale to the big screen, a cinematic unveiling of the greatest subterfuge foisted on the American public since Keyser Söze grabbed a lift with Pete Postlethwaite in the early nineties.
– John McEntee