Green Zone

Director    Paul Greengrass
Starring    Matt Damon, Jason Isaacs, Greg Kinnear, Brendon Gleeson, Amy Ryan
Release    12 MAR (US) 12 MAR (UK)
4 stars


17th March 2010

Before the dust has even settled on the Iraq war, several filmmakers have cast their lens in the direction of the conflict and raised pertinent questions about what is essentially an ongoing crisis. That is unprecedented, considering war movies of the past are typically made a considerable period after the conflict has been done and dusted. No film this year will be as politically charged as Paul Greengrass' stirring and unflinching war movie.

Whilst Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker focused on the intense profession of a bomb disposal expert, Paul Greengrass' effort probes deeper into the heart of the issues. Every raw minute of Green Zone has the most contentious question ingrained in its blue-print: did Iraq ever have weapons of mass destruction? It's what drives the renegade investigation of Matt Damon's Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who becomes suspicious of the reasons for the conflict when several intelligence leads allegedly pin-pointing Saddam's WMDs prove to be duds.

Concerned that military orders are going to hamper his efforts to find his targets, Miller ventures out into the volatile centre of Baghdad, looking for signs that will reveal information about whether Iraq did have WMD. But being a lone American solider is a dangerous thing to be in such an unstable post-war zone.

[gallery]The claustrophobic, in-your-face digital video camera style pioneered by Greengrass in the last two Bourne movies and United 93, is extremely effective at replicating the intensity, chaos and frenzied energy of a war zone on a big screen. So grainy, gritty and organic are the visuals in Green Zone that you sometimes feel an urge to duck flying shrapnel. Before we have any time to settle into our seats, Greengrass flings us into an authentically rendered Iraq, abruptly confronting us with panicked, fleeing Iraqis as explosions go off in all corners of the bomb-torn city. There is a suitable feeling of combustibility, with Greengrass nailing the chaotic tension resulting from a city teetering on the edge of civil war, and social unrest.

It's edgy then, but action junkies looking for a string of blazing gun set-pieces better beware that Greengrass's film isn't a blast the bad guys, Stallone-style action movie. The sound of automatic machine guns is never far away, and simmering tensions frequently burst into fiery conflicts, but Greengrass carefully makes the action look natural and logical within the context of the story, rather than rely on stand-alone set pieces. He has lofty political intentions; he wants to make a meaningful film that intelligently inquires about Iraq. He has succeeded in his aim.

Greengrass has made Green Zone with a provocative, Oliver Stone-esque tone of political cynicism. He shrewdly lands blows on a number of targets as the narrative makes some alarming judgement calls on the orchestrators of the conflict. A slippery, manipulative suit (played by Greg Kinnear) is the representative of Washington and his clash with Brendan Gleeson's sceptical CIA agent creates the dramatic thrust of the film, whilst also suggesting that the American forces in Iraq were anything but unified. The role the media played also comes in for some considered scrutiny. The film makes disturbing suggestions about the repercussions resulting from irresponsible press coverage cooking up fear around Iraq's powers.

Another great strength of the film is the murky morality adopted by Greengrass; he refuses to cast anyone, whether Iraqi or American, as an out-and-out villain and therefore he has something important and vital to offer about Western involvement in Iraq. There are several cleverly written Iraqi characters in the film whose well thought out dialogue offer a stronger voice of understanding from an Iraqi perspective, than anything you might have seen in the news.

The ubiquitous Matt Damon is again a solid and believable presence. His pensive demeanour captures his character's concerns and there is something about him that suggests he'd be a tenacious solider. He won his action man stripes in the Bourne movies and now you expect him to survive situations that others would succumb to. His presence, combined with the director's visual realism, give credibility to scenes that might look glaringly implausible in other movies.

Come the troubling conclusion, your blood should be boiling as the movie offers answers to the questions around Iraq's WMD program - if they contain even a modicum of truth, it is a damning indictment of the Iraq war. No filmmaker can take us up close and personal to the issues that matter as faithfully as Paul Greengrass.

A bold, compelling, thought-provoking and volatile inquiry into Iraq is disguised as an uncompromising action movie. Greengrass has found the perfect terrain for his uniquely brisk hand-held filmmaking style. It's not Bourne again, it's a film that is far more vital.

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