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Blu-ray Review: Green Zone

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Director Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon team up once again for the tense action-thriller Green Zone. The film struggled to achieve the same box office success of the prior Greengrass/Damon pairings on two films from the Bourne trilogy but that shouldn’t put you off what is an enjoyable wartime thriller.

Damon plays Roy Miller, a U.S. Army officer stationed in Iraq in 2003 during the height of the Iraq War. After completing several missions involving the search for weapons of mass destruction with faulty intelligence, Miller begins to question where the information is coming from and the reliability of the source. This line of questioning leads him down a dangerous path that involves competing members of the Special Forces, Pentagon, and CIA set against the backdrop of an Iraq that’s on the tipping point of civil war and renewed conflict against the American forces.

Much has been made of the political nature of Green Zone. It deals with the controversial topic of WMDs and their use as justification for a war on Iraq. There were a few times when the script seemed to benefit from its ability to look back at the events that have taken place. Miller asks some poignant questions about the intelligence provided, the justification given for the war, and the way America’s actions will be perceived by the world.

While the political undercurrent is there it largely adds to the plot instead of taking away from it. Damon plays the rather inquisitive and morally just Roy Miller well, never taking him into the realm of the stereotypical action hero and instead tries to make him believable within the military backdrop provided. Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson do a good job of portraying Clark Poundstone (Pentagon) and Martin Brown (CIA), heads of their respective agencies in Iraq, and it’s the competing nature of these two characters and their struggles to one-up each other which really helps sell the film as a thriller. Greengrass makes the smart decision to avoid the claim that this film is based on true events and instead just uses the situation in Iraq as a backdrop for a sort of "what if" situation. The story could have just as easily played out in another country but by placing it in Iraq it gives the audience something to chew on once all is said and done.

There’s a good pace to the proceedings as the stakes continue to be raised. Thrillers live and die by their ability to keep the audience guessing as they sit on the edge of their seat and Green Zone accomplishes that. The next step in Greengrass’s plot is never too ambitious or outrageous; it has a logical and cohesive flow and still manages to keep the ending under wraps.

The Blu-ray is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and the picture quality is largely impressive. Greengrass manages to create a parallel between night and day, certain and uncertain, safe and dangerous through his choice of camera. The outdoor daytime shots are perfectly clear with yellows really standing out on the screen, giving you a sense that this is really Iraq. The indoor shots start to bring in some graininess to the image as we see a lot of deals being made and there is a lot of shadow on screen that sets up an uncertain feeling during these scenes. There are actually a few shots where characters go from inside to outside and you can really notice the difference in the image. On one occasion the conversation, like the one between Kinnear and the reporter played by Amy Ryan, goes from being ambiguous and filled with efforts to dodge questions by Kinnear inside to a definite clear answer from Kinnear once he gets outside. It may be an over-analysis of one scene but it seems to set up that parallel feeling.

Nighttime sequences provide even more graininess in the image, sometimes to the point where characters are hard to see, but this isn’t a fault of the transfer and instead it’s a stylistic choice made by Greengrass. Many of the nighttime scenes use a hand-held camera and, coupled with the extreme graininess, it gives the scenes an added realism and sense of fear. The camera work makes you feel like you are running through the streets with Damon and the other soldiers. It gives an overall impression that at nighttime there is more chance of the unexpected happening compared to daytime where things are a little more clear cut. Explosions are crisp and clear and on the whole the picture appears to be a faithful transition from the big screen to Blu-ray.

The sound, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, is definitely what you’d look for in a military action thriller. Helicopters, Humvees, machine guns and assault rifles all have a really realistic sound to them. Like Damon’s performance as Roy Miller it doesn't stray into the realm of typical action movie where the sound can sometimes be a bit hollow. Every bullet sounds real and rings out, every explosion gets your sub working, vehicles send out vibrations as their large engines operate, and there is a real depth in the sound.

Greengrass has included so much background noise to make it feel like a hotly contested war zone. Shots ring out in the distance and unseen explosions rumble. It really helps you feel immersed in the story and the action and the extensive use of background noise makes several scenes, where there is a distinct lack of sound, really edgy as you get that sense that something big is about to happen. There is also clear, well sampled dialogue. Not once could I recall a moment where a piece of dialogue was unclear or inaudible and this is brilliant because Greengrass’s thriller is driven equally by the actions taken and the words behind them.

The Blu-ray comes packed with special features. It has what is almost the standard by way of a digital copy and deleted scenes along with feature commentary from Damon and Greengrass. There are also two features, one dealing with Damon’s training for the role of Roy Miller ("Matt Damon: Ready for Action") and a behind the scenes look at crafting some of Green Zone’s scenes ("Inside the Green Zone").

Between the engrossing, thrilling story and the well presented HD audio and picture, Green Zone is a terrific Blu-ray that would be a worthy addition to anyone’s collection. Yes, the story has an underlying political element to it that some people may not be able to get over but you should really give this one a go.

This film is available on June 22, 2010 from Universal.

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About Troy Mayes

  • Troy Mayes

    Was she mentioned in the book the films inspired by or was she just involved in real life? Just curious as I’m from Australia so I didn’t really follow a lot of the build up to the war

  • Ryan

    This film sucked in every way including in making the woman reporter pushing the Iraq War and WMD claims work for the Wall St. Journal instead of the New York Times. When an Iraq film can’t be honest about the horrible Judith Miller, you know it’s got problems and that’s be no neck Damon shows up.