I would like to start a collection to purchase Paul Greengrass, director of the last two Bourne films and now Green Zone, a tripod, perhaps a dolly or two, and hell, even some ankle weights – anything that would keep him and his films stationary for a few seconds.
For while the epileptic style that was used so often in The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum was tiring but effective, it has now become his trademark, rendering him unable to film a complete scene without twirling, leaping and spinning around the action. The result is disorienting, to say the least. It certainly does not help matters with his latest, Green Zone, which is already hobbled by stock characterizations and over-simplified dialogue.
Matt Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who's in the midst of the chaos of the early stages of the Iraq War. And though it is based on a non-fiction book from embedded journalist Rajiv Chandresekaran there is about as much to do with actual ground events as any Rambo film. In 2003, immediately following full combat operations in Iraq, Miller and his men are sent on an Easter egg hunt for weapons of mass destruction. After repeated failures, Miller starts to sense something rotten in Baghdad.
His attempts for answers are stonewalled by a talking-points-regurgitating journalist (a thankless role occupied by the competent Amy Ryan), and Greg Kinnear's special intelligence suck-up Clark Poundstone (nope, no need for subtlety in that name).
And Green Zone suffers from that lack of gray, painting its heroes and villains with broad strokes to ensure little confusion. The script, from Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), is about as nuanced as a Beetle Bailey cartoon, and is helped none by the film's blender editing. The style does come in handy when blasting out of the starting gate, capturing the chaos and confusion felt from the soldiers' standpoint of questionable alliances in a foreign country. But films such as this call for pauses to allow the narrative so build so that we can build compassion and concern for our leads. Green Zone wants none of that, forgoing any development to forge ahead with the next action sequence.
Damon has the character down pat, which is really no more than a scrubbed-up version of his Jason Bourne identity. He's the rigidly just man in the face of overwhelming odds. He's strong, steadfast, and so very noble. But Greengrass does not allow the darkened edges to show, which ultimately renders him equally bland.
He's a director that knows his was around an action sequence and can built suitable urgency even in films in which we know the outcome (United 93), but if does not rein in his fetishistic cinematic tendencies, the only thing he will be able to create on screen is motion sickness.