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Green Zone ***½
It’s finally here – the much awaited fourth instalment in the Bourne franchise. Oh, wait no, it isn’t, but the studio certainly wants you to think it is. After all, Green Zone boasts the same actor-director combo of Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass and trailers have certainly made it look like a Bourne movie. But, alas, it is not, rather being the latest in a long line of Hollywood movies to tackle issues relating to the War on Terror/Iraq War/Afghanistan War/etc, films for which getting made at all is a rather surprising development given that moviegoers have consistently chosen to ignore such films on their cinema releases. Could Green Zone, inspired by the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, be the film to break this trend and actually catch the attention of moviegoers or like support for the Iraq War itself will it find the public turning their backs on it?
After the fall of Saddam Hussein and the US occupation of Baghdad, Roy Miller (Matt Damon) leads a team hunting for weapons of mass destruction. With his specialised skills and combat experience, Miller is considered the perfect man to carry out the search in this unstable region. But Miller is hampered by faulty intelligence and the nagging suspicion that he is on a futile quest. Liaising with Wall Street reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) and a sympathetic agent named Brown (Brendon Gleeson), he sets out to find the origins of the weapons’ main source – a sneaky agent known as Magellan. Keeping a close eye on Miller’s movements is government operative Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) and brutal special forces operative Briggs (Jason Isaacs), whose motives are unclear. But Miller suspects foul play, and soon finds himself caught up in a lethal CIA conspiracy.
The other war on terror film that Green Zone can be most closely compared with is Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies. As well as treading very similar territory with regard to their central themes, both films also have something else in common – they are both very ambitious in what they set out to do, and they both fail to fulfil their ambitions. It’s definitely not a case of Green Zone being a bad movie because technically speaking it is actually quite brilliant on many levels. Paul Greengrass expertly utilizes his trademark shaky hand held camera techniques and a grainy look to the picture to create an impressive sense of realism in what is seen on the screen. Everything we see seems completely real and much of this can be attributed to the excellent camera work and editing techniques. At times, it seems as if it could even be real news footage that you are watching, it really is that realistic. Even the way sequences are staged rings true to life. We hear explosions before we actually see them as would be the case in real life and this adds to the almost journalistic style in which the film is presented, with Greengrass using first hand experience from his time as a journalist to fantastic effect. In general, the film accurately and convincingly portrays the sense of chaos that was rife in post invasion Iraq and this is also much the case with the action sequences depicted in the film. There is no sensationalism of the violence here, just shootouts and chases as they would happen in the real world. All these sequences are suitably intense but it is the gunfights where lots of soldiers play a role that really stand out, shot and executed with expert precision, showing the perspective not only of Damon but of other soldiers as well, and giving a glimpse into what warfare is really like, with none of the nonsense that is often depicted in Hollywood films. As you might expect, however, this means that the action won’t be to everyone’s taste and while the film is undoubtedly true to life in depictions of these events, they don’t always manage to deliver the thrills, lacking in entertainment value at times. One thing that is undisputable, though, is the strength of the performances, with the entire cast doing a very good. Matt Damon delivers a typically great performance, being suitably gritty in the leading role, Jason Isaacs is suitably sinister in a rather morally questionable role, Amy Ryan makes for a believable journalist, Brendan Gleeson is good as the spook character and Greg Kinnear is completely convincing as the self absorbed politician type. Sadly, however, all the efforts of the stars are not enough to overcome the shortcomings of the film. There really are too many ideas floating around in the film and as a result none of the issues are explored as well as they should be, the story is overcomplicated at times – something which is a double edged sword, on one hand reflecting the complicated nature of war and politics in real life, on the other making for an occasionally contrived narrative where events are somewhat hard to follow – and attempts to show different sides of the story prove rather confusing. Consequently, the film never engages as much as it could and should. These flaws, however, cannot really be blamed upon Paul Greengrass, who does a largely excellent job, but rather scriptwriter Brian Helgeland. Regardless, however, they do mean that a potentially great film ends up being a merely decent one that is stuck somewhere between being a Bourne style action thriller and a thought provoking insight into the truth behind the Iraq War, not being quite entertaining enough as the former or successful enough in presenting the issues as the latter. So, Green Zone is a film that is far from perfect but will be appreciated differently by different people. If you liked Body of Lies you will most certainly like this film too but if you are more of a Bourne fan you will be very disappointed as Roy Miller definitely isn’t in the same league as Jason Bourne.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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