Green Zone, Matt Damon

Jasin Boland/Universal Studios

Review in a Hurry: Matt Damon reunites with Bourne sequel director Paul Greengrass and his shaky, hand-held camera for an action-packed thriller set in Iraq shortly after the toppling of Saddam. The pacing is mostly tense and smart; however, the movie's politics are distracting at best, and at worst may turn some viewers off completely.

The Bigger Picture: While it could be argued that there's never a good time for a movie about U.S. troops in Iraq, Green Zone is particularly likely to suffer by comparison to recent Oscar champ The Hurt Locker, to which it will be unfairly compared. It's a shame, because they're quite different sorts of movies aside from the setting. (Though indeed, The Hurt Locker is better!)

Green Zone is a fictionalized tale based upon a non-fiction book, though blessedly it is not being promoted as "based on a true story," primarily so the marketing guys can convince the gullible that it's Bourne Again in Iraq. Damon's character, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, appears to have been the principal invention for the movie; heading up a team assigned to find WMD in the immediate post-attack, heavy looting period, he is frustrated that none are to be had in any of the places where intelligence says they should be.

Tired of losing men on these seemingly fruitless quest, he begins to have some doubts about the orders he's been given.

Of course, we viewers know, with full hindsight, that nothing much was ever found, so what he ultimately learns is something of a foregone conclusion. But that was also true of Greengrass' 9-11 movie United 93, and he maintained the tension regardless.

He does so here as well, albeit in a less even-handed fashion: if the phrase "Bush lied, people died" is likely to upset you, so will this film, but it is notable that Greengrass manages to criticize the war without, for the most part, being derogatory towards the troops.

But the ripped-from-the-headlines nature of the tale being told, which involves a pissing contest between the CIA and the Pentagon, with opposing Iraqi forces being played on both ends, is ultimately problematic, in that anyone who paid attention to the news at the time will be unable to refrain from playing "spot the analogue."

Amy Ryan's awkwardly named reporter character Lawrie Dayne is obviously meant to be NYT scribe Judith Miller, and there's a minor character who is evidently a version of Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi. Does this make Greg Kinnear's character Paul Bremer? And since the actual President Bush appears via the TV news, the pseudonyms all seem rather foolish.

If you're going to fictionalize things anyway, why not tone down the political anger? Or if you wanna get real, why not simply call them who they are?

If you can put that aside, and most non-political junkies may well be able to, Green Zone gets full marks for excitement, with Greengrass employing his trademark you-are-there cinematography, and a conspiracy story you'll need to play close attention to, capped with an action sequence comparable to those in Black Hawk Down. And if you paid no attention at all to the politics surrounding the war, this could conceivably make a decent (if over-simplified) primer.

The 180—a Second Opinion: Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, here playing an angry CIA man, is an actor of many, many gifts. Imitating an American accent is not one of them—he should have just pulled a Sean Connery and talked naturally without explanation.


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