"Green Zone": A Review

Alison Bailes on the new Matt Damon thriller.

By Alison Bailes
Photograph: Photo by: Jonathan Olley. Copyright (c) 2010 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.

A lone military man searching for the truth . . . an international political intrigue . . . corrupt Pentagon officials . . . sinister Middle East warlords.

Is this a recent episode of 24?  Or a new Matt Damon big-screen vehicle?  And if it’s the latter, why spend your money to see something that airs weekly on Fox TV?

Good question. As I watched Green Zone, the latest shaky-cam actioner from Bourne director Paul Greengrass, I couldn’t help but think that I’d seen it all recently on the not-so small screen in my living room.

Matt Damon, playing a Jason Bourne/Jack Bauer hybrid, is competent, even compelling, as chief warrant officer Roy Miller. Sent to Iraq in 2003 to unearth the Weapons of Mass Destruction that the US government is so sure exist, he quickly loses faith in an administration that has obviously acted on unreliable sources. As he sets about to uncover who knows what, he discovers that—gasp!—top American officials may have used the WMD as an excuse to wage war on Saddam Hussein.

It’s hardly a new idea. If you’ve seen any of the Iraq war documentaries (No End in Sight springs to mind), then you’re familiar with this notion. And if you’re a 24 fan, you’re familiar with the episodic nature of a political intrigue punctuated by fistfights, shootouts and secret rendezvous in deserted streets with shady characters and Machievellian American officials pulling invisible strings.

It’s not that Green Zone is bad. In fact, it’s quite exciting. Damon plays a great hero, Greg Kinnear does slick opportunist really well and Brendan Gleeson is very credible as a conspiracy-spouting CIA guy. True, the ideas are a tad over-simplified, but when an Iraqi translator says to Miller "it is not for you to decide," thereby pinpointing the very crux of the Iraq quagmire, my heart missed a beat. Greengrass, and therefore his protagonist, care about the reasons for war. And addressing those reasons gives the film a cause and something the audience can invest in. If the film sometimes feels like a television episode, perhaps that’s more a result of TV upping the ante than film lowering its standards.

I just wish someone had given the cameraman a tripod from time to time.

Green Zone is in theaters starting March 12.

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