Mark Reviews Movies


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Paul Greengrass

Cast: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Khalid Abdalla, Jason Isaacs, Amy Ryan, Igal Naor

MPAA Rating: R (for violence and language)

Running Time: 1:55

Release Date: 3/12/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 11, 2010

When used properly, dramatic irony, the circumstance under which the audience is aware of information that the characters are not, can be a powerful narrative tool. The second sequence of Green Zone is a fine example.

In it, a group of American soldiers arrives at a site in Baghdad shortly after air strikes began in the city in March of 2003. The site, intelligence has revealed, holds chemical weapons of mass destruction.

We know the intelligence is faulty. We know there are no WMDs here, just as there won't be any at any other location this intelligence says there are.

Still, these soldiers are here with a job to do. Amidst looting (in which the soldiers aren't sure weapons haven't been dismantled and are being taken away right in front of them), protests from locals, lack of support to secure the area, and gunfire coming at them, they will do their job, because it's what they've been ordered to do.

It is, in retrospect, a futile mission, but they don't know that fact. This is dramatic irony at work, and it says everything Green Zone wants to say in about ten minutes with tension and the undertones of political protest.

Soon after, the movie forgoes the suggestion of objection and flat-out states it. The intelligence is faulty.  Someone is to blame. Can we have a hero stand up and say as much and find the culprit?

That champion is Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon), who has already been to two other supposed locations of WMDs and found nothing there either. After returning, Miller brings up his suspicion that the information the Army has received is wrong. They tell him, as anyone would expect, to keep looking. The intel is solid, his commanding officers tell him.

Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) with the CIA is at this meeting as well. He takes Miller aside and asserts his own distrust with the intelligence. Meanwhile, Clark Poundstone (a slimy Greg Kinnear) with the Pentagon is assuring everyone they will find WMDs, because he talked with a source inside of Iraq before the invasion who told him as much. Brown doesn't like Poundstone, and he thinks Brown is a dinosaur of another era.

Brian Helgeland's screenplay (based on the book by former journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran) captures the atmosphere of post-invasion Iraq on two levels. First, there's the chaos in the streets—the looting, the rubble, the smoking buildings, the shouts of hostility. Second, there's the infighting between those trying to decide the future of the country (while living in luxury in Saddam Hussein's former palace, even having pool parties). "I thought we were all on the same side," Miller poses to Brown. "Don't be naïve," is perhaps the only proper response.

It's one thing to hear of these strategic maneuvers that were happening at the time, but it's quite another to see them so concisely presented between these two men: Brown, the old vanguard thinking the truth is important and that sometimes your enemy can quickly become your friend when he has nothing to lose, and Poundstone, who has been told to create a new regime and thinks an exile who hasn't been in the country for decades is the best choice to run it. He also believes that disbanding the country's army, government, and political process is essential, but he does also have a problem with the man Brown judges can run the new Iraq because that man knows the truth about the WMDs in Iraq.

The man is General Al-Rawi (Igal Naor), who gathers together remaining members of Saddam's government with an ultimatum: The Americans will come to them for help, or they will fight.

It's intriguing material that Helgeland offers but so insistent on condemnation and vast conspiracy theories that we lose an authentic sense of damage. Yes, Miller can rebuke a journalist (Amy Ryan) who bought into Poundstone's internal source by asking who checks their stories, constantly say the reasons for war are always important, disobey direct orders to find Al-Rawi's location before Poundstone tries to cover his tracks, and he can be right. The problem is that it becomes one-note, soap-boxy material.

Director Paul Greengrass keeps things at a pace, keeping the proceedings from becoming monotonous, and his shaky-camera style fits in suitably in portraying the bedlam of post-invasion Iraq. The climactic chase/firefight is a cluster of conflicting motives, and while Greengrass does his best to bring order to it, it's a bit of a visceral mess.

Green Zone might have taken a lesson from its opening scenes, but Helgeland plays his cards far too early. It's difficult to become invested in a search for the truth when that truth is a foregone conclusion and especially when it's so repetitive.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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