Some people just hate shaky cam. Normally it doesn't bother me as much as some, but from a visual perspective it can greatly detract from your viewing experience. The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Paul Greengrass's two Bourne films—at least those had strong enough stories that you could look beyond a director in desperate need of a tripod.
Yes, folks, Greengrass is back and in overdrive with Green Zone. While it may have brought a sense of involvement to the proceedings of his Bourne films—and makes sense in a film about the war in Iraq—when the story comes down to a simple whodunit in the desert, the shaky cam is more than unnecessary. Even a simple shot handled with a steadicam would have sufficed, but if the camera isn't moving then apparently Greengrass just isn't satisfied.
Photo courtesy Universal Pictures
The story opens in March of 2003 in Baghdad. We see a group led by Al Rawi (Yigal Naor) being evacuated as the surroundings are under attack. While stuff blows up outside in the background, you get immediately distracted as subtitles fly in the way of the foreground, which only confuse things more since you can't tell who's even saying the dialogue.
Four weeks later, Chief Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is leading his group in search of weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs. Their latest excursion takes them to an abandoned toilet factory warehouse, meaning three strikeouts in a row for Miller & Co. After expressing his concerns over the validity of their intel, he's pulled aside by CIA agent Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) who agrees with Miller's theories and asks him to join their side.
The opposing side to the CIA is led by Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) who is being hounded by Lawrie Dayne (a totally underused Amy Ryan) reporting for the Wall Street Journal. Poundstone is getting his information from a source known as "Magellan" whom Lawrie wants to meet herself for interview purposes, while Miller—working with his self-made "interpreter," Freddy (Khalid Abdalla)—and Brown are trying to figure out who "Magellan" is, because of the crappy (pun intended) intel.
While one man has been a constant in the shaky world of Greengrass (editor Christopher Rouse), it appears that the chink in his chain is his director of photography, Barry Ackroyd. This is their second collaboration (the first was United 93) but Greengrass needs to stick with seasoned DP Oliver Wood if he's going to keep churning out films looking the way they do.
Apparently in Greengrass's world, if it ain't broke don't fix it. But there definitely appear to be cracks starting to show in his armor. Here he is working with screenwriting vet Brian Helgeland, the man behind Mystic River, A Knight’s Tale, and Payback. However, Helgeland is also the man who brought us the recent Cirque du Freak adaptation, the Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 remake, Robert Englund’s directorial debut 976-EVIL, and Freddy Kruger’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Adapting nonfiction (Rajiv Chandrasekar’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone) and assembling it for a big Hollywood studio production has to have been quite the task, but Helgeland is capable of far better than this.
And as for Greengrass, when you have one extended foot chase sequence in a 115-minute movie, don’t wait for the last half hour to spring it on us and don’t film it at night. While this may have been how it happened in real life, this is not the kind of material that fits the film’s style. As if it’s not already hard enough to see what’s going on in the film for the previous minutes, when all the film’s action takes place in the dark you’re going to wind up with one of the most boring “action” sequences in an already lumbering film.