The Green Zone is a nice taut political thriller set in Baghdad starring Matt Damon and it feels a lot like Jason Bourne went and joined the army (which isn’t all that surprising since it was directed by Paul Greengrass who also directed the last two Bourne films). Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller whose assignment is to find those Weapons of Mass Destruction that we went to war about. It is very early in the war in Iraq, and Miller’s team has so far been sent on a series wild goose chases to find WMDs in various and sundry places without any success. He is beginning to question the intelligence that the army has been given and when he starts digging for the truth, he puts himself in a dangerous position.
The Green Zone is based on a book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran who was Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post during the first years of the Iraq War. The adaptation/fictionalization by Brian Helgeland (Oscar winner for Mystic River and L.A. Confidential) places Miller in an ethical tug-of-war between an officious Pentagon officer who is clearly a Bush functionary named Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) and a seasoned CIA officer Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) who actually knows something about the region but is being pushed out of the way. This is a Political thriller with a capital P. The reality that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that the US government started the war knowing that fact is central to the plot. There is even a scene with video of Bush on the aircraft carrier with the “Mission Accomplished” banner.
But politics aside, The Green Zone is a fast-paced, edge of your seat thriller. Early in the film, Miller is approached by an Iraqi man named Freddy (Khalid Abdalla) who has information about a clandestine meeting of Saddam’s inner circle. Freddy becomes Miller’s translator and Iraqi everyman character; he brings a much needed local voice to the conflict. All around him factions are fighting, both US and Iraqi, yet it is Freddy and his family who will have to live with all their decisions. Meanwhile, in this secret meeting, the former Saddam loyalists are discussing how they might become part of the new Iraq working with the Americans to forge a real coalition. However, the inconvenient truth is that the US government has already decided that all of these men are the enemy. And more importantly for the story, one of these men knows that the Americans were aware before the war that the WMDs didn’t exist, because he told them. As Miller gets closer to uncovering this truth, he is forced to go rogue in a valiant attempt to set the record straight.
I won’t ruin the twists and turns for you, but I would recommend this for people who liked the Bourne movies, those who like a fast-paced political thriller and liberals who like to say they were right about the stupidity of the Iraq War. Matt Damon is a very solid actor and while not an action hero here, he plays this role with a sense of deep moral outrage that seems right. Though filmed in Morocco and Spain, you get a real feel for Baghdad and the disconnect between what was really going on there and what was the distorted view from The Green Zone where the Americans were having pool parties while the Iraqis a mile away sat in the dark with no water.
[Warning – if you have a very high sensitivity to motion as I do, perhaps you should take a Dramamine (or bring some ginger ale) before watching this movie. I was actually nauseated watching it because in many places, the camerawork is hand held jerky shooting. I think it could have been better in that department.]