Green Zone

Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan
Rated R for violence and language
1 hr. 55 min.

If this were just any other Iraq message-movie, it could be easily written off. The Hurt Locker’s amazing Oscar domination notwithstanding, Hollywood’s landscape has been littered with titles (Home of the Brave, Stop-Loss, The Kingdom) trying to capture the zeitgeist of a war, when its profound effects have yet to be felt. Since many of these movies are green-lit several years before they actually hit screens, they often carry outdated or ham-fisted messages to a public that simply isn’t in the mood for a melodramatic rehashing of two-year-old news cycles.

Each successive box office bomb and critical failure only confirmed this trend, and by 2009, the ranks of aspiring filmmakers looking to make their marks with revolutionary antiwar movies had winnowed.

Then came The Hurt Locker, a film that (for critics and the Academy, at least) completely changed the equation. Although more people have now heard about the film than actually seen it (the indie film grossed a modest sum of only $14 million in theaters), the Katherine Bigelow-helmed feature has been elevated to the status of “one of the greatest war movies of all time.”

That’s pretty lofty rhetoric. And you can bet it certainly spooked the producers of Green Zone, the long-shelved actioner directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) himself. So instead of selling the picture in the same vein as Greengrass’ own documentary-styled  United 93, the marketing division kicked into full gear and repackaged the picture — Bourne style.

What we get is exactly what we expected: a Hollywood action thriller set in the early days of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Remember, those were the days before we were trying to stabilize the country and bring democracy to Iraq’s people — all we cared about were Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. And Matt Damon, playing Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, is mad as hell that he can’t find them.

The opening sequence of the film (the entirety of which feels like it was shot on a cheap, grainy digital handi-cam) conveys the “shock and awe” bombardment of Baghdad with suitable excitement and seeming realism. But that’s where the comparisons between Green Zone and any nuanced war film end.

The plot (which, unfortunately, seems as though it could have been grafted from a Mission Impossible movie) revolves around a secret source, code-named “Magellan,” who has been feeding the United States information about the supposed WMD sites. As one of the first battalions that have made it deep into Iraq, Matt Damon and his allies are in charge of finding and dismantling these programs. Except, as we all now know, they aren’t there.

As the hunt intensifies and the soldiers are still coming up dry, fingers start being pointed, and the CIA and the Pentagon begin to turn on each other. Greg Kinnear, playing the top Pentagon official, is at his smarmy best as the idealistic, in-over-his-head civilian commander of operations in the war-torn nation. He’s got his agenda and is stubbornly sticking to it — no matter if the intelligence that served as a pretext for the war is all wrong.

Green Zone certainly has its highlights. At one point in the movie, you actually believe that Greengrass will indulge his inner conspirator and decide to create an alternate-reality Iraq that ties together all the war’s disjointed events. Unfortunately he sticks to the script of a typical, yet well-made, action thriller. The gist of which is this: Jason Bourne points, shoots then rushes to the next location with shaky camera following him as he takes down more baddies.