Thursday, August 12, 2010

Green Zone

Yeah, I were really hoping that Green Zone would be a true-story Bourne movie, right?  It's got Matt Damon as the lead and Paul Greengrass directing, so that's not a bad assumption, actually.  Greengrass even mimics the cinematography from The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, so the look and feel of this film matches his earlier work.  Hell, this is even a government conspiracy movie, too!  Unfortunately, Green Zone is based on the non-fiction book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City.  I don't mean to demean the book, but any movie based on a non-fiction account of anything from the Iraq war is going to be heavy on government screw-ups and relatively light on the awesome hand-to-hand combat and driving sequences that helped make the Bourne series so unique.

That comparison may seem unfair, but it's the filmmaker's own fault.  Green Zone is essentially a political conspiracy movie disguised as an action movie.  If they wanted this to be a conspiracy movie, that's cool.  I'm down for some convoluted conspiracy plots.  This film throws in a decent amount of war movie-type shootouts, though, so the action and the political intrigue sometimes seem disjointed.

Since the movie is very plot-driven, with all the twists and turns that implies, I don't want to give away any spoilers; I'll just give a quick recap.  Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is in charge of a US squad looking to capture Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in 2003 Iraq, right around the time where President Bush gave his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech.  As you might have heard, anyone looking for WMDs in Iraq was going to go home disappointed, and this film is about that.  After finding zip, zero, and nada for a while, Miller begins to openly question the value of the military's intelligence.  This movie deserves some credit for not once making any "oxymoron" comments about military intelligence, despite several obvious opportunities to do so.  Miller begins to dig for the truth behind the intelligence being supplied to the military.  On his side, he has CIA agent Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), a local Iraqi man that is willing to bastardize his given name and be called "Freddie" so stupid Americans don't mispronounce his given name (Khalid Abdalla), and a Wall Street Journal correspondent (Amy Ryan).  On the "Truth?  You can't handle the truth!" side, we have Iraq's resident Pentagon guy, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), Iraqi General Mohammed Al-Rawi (Yigal Naor), and a Special Ops guy, Briggs (the always evil Jason Isaacs).  Of course, nothing is as simple as Miller would like, so he chooses to bypass the chain of command and wage a one man campaign to capture the truth.

Side note: bypassing military chain of command in military situations has absolutely no negative repercussions, as long as you are Matt Damon.

 As far as the cast goes, almost everyone does a solid job.  I like Damon, even when his role requires him to look frustrated or impassive for an entire movie.  Brendan Gleeson and Jason Isaacs are always entertaining character actors, and they don't disappoint here.  I wasn't familiar with Khalid Abdalla or Yigal Naor, but I thought both did well with surprisingly complex supporting roles.  I was not impressed with Amy Ryan or Greg Kinnear, though.  Ryan's seemingly indifferent performance might be an accurate representation of a journalist (I'll give her the benefit of the doubt), but it makes for a boring character to watch.  Kinnear had the opportunity to play a slimy politician and he does that well.  He kind of overdoes it, though; I'm pretty sure I've seen Cobra Commander display more human complexity than Kinnear did here.

The directing was fine, too.  I like Paul Greengrass as a director.  I liked how the movie looked (kind of gritty) and the pacing of the action.  He was able to capture some pretty good action sequences, as you might expect.  Greengrass is able to make complex plots understandable with his direction, and that was a key to enjoying this movie.

Despite a lot of quality ingredients making up this movie, they don't quite add up.  Part of that is due to the plot and part is due to the presentation.  The plot is effective as a suspense/political intrigue movie.  There's just one problem: the audience already knows that there were no WMDs in Iraq.  Well, maybe I'm know the P.T. Barnum quote: “You will never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”  Let's pretend that you don't know about the WMDs.  Even then, the big reveal doesn't deliver the dramatic punch that you would expect it to.  When Miller confronts the person responsible, he is essentially blown off, and the eventual ending is missing the catharsis that the story demands.  Obviously, the hero is going to do something heroic, right?  Even after Miller makes his big play, I was left unsatisfied.

Presenting this movie as a thinly-veiled fictional story about our recent past was probably not the way to go, either.  If they had just mentioned that the names of the people involved have been changed, etc., etc., then the lack of catharsis would be more understandable.  Sometimes, real life doesn't provide the ending you want.  Still, even if the filmmakers had played up the "true story" angle, it wouldn't explain the lack of consequences shown in the film.  I don't want to give anything away, but when the movie ended, I was waiting for some sort of postscript to tell what happened to who after the plot is resolved.  But nothing is added and I was left with the impression that nothing had changed.  That's a bad feeling to have after watching a conspiracy movie. 

This movie was well made and I enjoyed it while I watched.  I just feel that the conclusion was lacking.  That might not be a huge problem for a comedy, but plot-driven movies need to have effective resolutions.  I think the flat-out evil portrayal of Kinnear's Pentagon insider is overly simplistic (I'm fine with him being evil, but at least have him justify his actions!) and Miller's actions had several severe consequences that are brushed over.  I think this is an important story, but it is told in a good-guy vs. bad-guy way that cheapens the message.  Unless the message is "Screenwriters: Stay in school until you cover 'Satisfactory endings' in class."

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