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Movie Review: Green Zone

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Despite sharing its director, Paul Greengrass, and its star, Matt Damon, Green Zone is not just another Bourne film. This is also in spite of the advertising. Apparently Universal really wants you to believe this is another adventure for Jason Bourne, considering how much they are playing up the connection in the action-oriented trailer. Now don't go and get fooled — this is not exactly the film advertised. Yes, the director and star are correct and Greengrass's trademark shaky-cam are in full effect, but this is no mere conspiracy actioner. It takes a slightly more serious and controversial bent. It is a film that is sure to split the politically minded in the audience.

Green Zone seems like the perfect step for a filmmaker like Greengrass. It is a well balanced blend of crowd-pleasing action/adventure and political commentary (or at political questioning or suggesting). It essentially combines his work in docu-dramas like Bloody Sunday and United 93 with his more populist work on the second two Bourne films. This is not to say Green Zone is fact; it makes no claims to be true, but it does draw strong parallels to the real world.

Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland, working from a book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran for inspiration, have taken real world stories and turned them into a fictional exploration of those early days of the occupation of Iraq. It employs coincidences, a minimal number of characters, and the unlikely idea that a single soldier on the ground would be the singular focal point for the coincidences. The commentary is blended with the thriller aspects where it is stirred into an even mixture which is then poured over the film where it will serve as many as will have it.

To describe the plot, or attempt to describe the plot would likely end up in confusion. Whether it would be your confusion or my own I do not know, but it would be there. What is surprising is that the film tells the story with stunning clarity. It is easy to follow and even though we already know the real world outcome, is surprisingly tense. Without going into everything, let's take a high level look at the story.

Damon is Chief Miller. He leads a team checking out locations marked as hot spots for WMDs (weapons of mass destruction). Each location turns up nothing. This makes Miller begin to question the source of the tips. Who, exactly, is checking up on the intel and verifying it is good? It is a question that is notoriously difficult to answer as no one is talking. This brings in US Intelligence officer Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) and CIA officer Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson). These two are on opposite sides of the coin as Brown has an idea of how to approach the growing situation rationally, while there is something distinctly slimy about Poundstone; the guy is hiding something.

Green Zone goes on to investigate the source of the intelligence. This investigation leads Miller on a hunt for General al Rawi, one of Saddam's top men. We are also introduced to a reporter named Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan). She has been righting articles about the WMDs, thereby giving credence to what is more and more seeming to be false intel.

Everything builds and builds to a riveting climactic action sequence that has Miller facing down al Rawi as an explosive firefight explodes behind them. It is an exciting film that shows the CIA not as the heavy, but as the group unable to back up claims of WMDs that is cut out of the loop as the US Intelligence agency, specifically Poundstone, fabricate the details needed to push the war to happen.

It is almost a comedy of ineptitude and idiocy as the war that should not be is sold on the basis of fake information and pushed over the edge by the disbanding of the Iraqi army. What a great idea that was, rather than use them to your advantage, cut them loose armed and now disenfranchised. It shows America, or at least a portion of it, as wanting to go to war at all costs and then on the brink of apparent victory, ensure continued conflict by encouraging the dawn of the insurgency with the now former military leaders.

In a way I am reminded of Charlie Wilson's War which points to the decision of the American government to pull out of Afghanistan following the repelling of the Russian invasion in the 1980s as the start of the rise of Al Qaeda to power. It is an interesting parallel and puts our intelligence services in a not terribly great light.

For the most part, I am uninterested in politics. Unfortunately, with a film such as this it is nearly impossible to remain completely separate from it, especially when the goal of the film is to raise questions and show it from a different angle. Still, there are issues when the film could be seen as reality. I walked out wondering if this was based on any fact. I have come to believe there are seeds of truth that have been sown and worked into a fictional story whose point is to raise questions about the reality. Interesting.

Paul Greengrass is a director you either like or don't. His style is unmistakable and that makes some people sick. I have never had a problem with shaky-cam and when used properly it can add to the cinematic experience. Greengrass is one of the few who know how to make it work. It adds a sense of immediacy as you are put right into the action. No, it does not replicate actually being there, but it does replicate the idea of watching camera footage. It challenges the persistence of vision as the image bounces, shakes, and blurs, but it works for the film by making you pay attention that much more, attempting to grasp the action. For as good as I think he is, I would not want to see him make a film in 3D; that would likely be the shaky-cam that pushes me over the edge.

The performances are also quite good. Matt Damon is a very good actor and one I do not believe always gets the credit he deserves. He has the ability to play across genres convincingly and has great onscreen charisma. He holds the attention here as Chief Miller, a man of obvious intelligence who does what he has to do to support his beliefs. He stands in for the audience as he talks about the importance of the reasons for war and not to blindly follow orders. He is surrounded by a solid supporting cast including Kinnear and Gleeson, whose characters are not fools and strongly believe what they are doing is the right thing.

As good as the recognizable cast is, the man who stole the show for me is Khalid Abdalla as Freddy, an Iraqi citizen who comes to Miller with some information and finds himself working as translator. There is something about his performance that speaks to a greater truth, a voice for the citizen who only wants what is best for himself and his country. When you watch the film pay attention to him, he delivers some key dialogue later in the film.

Bottom line. This is a very good film that has brains and brawn underneath the hood. Does it question reality? Sure, and there is nothing wrong with that. It works on whatever level you want to view it. War-based thriller, Matt Damon action vehicle, political commentary, or any combination. Give it a shot, you may be surprised by what you find.

Highly Recommended.

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