Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Inspired by Rajiv Chandrasekaran's 2006 non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland have incorporated elements of truth into this largely fictionalized thriller. Green Zone takes place in Baghdad a few years back, and U.S. soldiers are on the move searching for weapons of mass destruction throughout Iraq. Time after time, they come up empty handed, and it is this fact that acts as the trigger for this thriller. WMDs are being reported, yet they are not being found. Why?
Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) seemingly becomes the first soldier to muster enough guts (or desire) to start questioning the army's intelligence. Although he is shut down by his superiors, he manages to gain information by asking questions and posing theories. He is approached by a similarly suspicious CIA officer named Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), as well as Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), a journalist currently investigating the validity of the army's intelligence. These contacts lead Miller to Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), the agent who is apparently keeping the identity of the source -- beyond the code name of "Magellan" -- anonymous
Without anymore notable leads, Miller fortunately comes across a local citizen named Freddie (Khalid Abdalla), who informs Miller of a meeting between high-ranking Iraqi officials. General Al Rawi (Igal Naor) is the head of this meeting, suggesting that the Iraqi forces should delay their attacks until the Americans make an offer. Miller and his team storm into the location of the meeting, but Al Rawi escapes, as does Miller's chance of uncovering more information. Luckily, Miller finds that many of the people around him are resources. Freddie proves to be a useful translator and companion; Brown and his unit provide Miller with a decent working environment; and Dayne's previous articles turn out some much-needed background information on the origin of "Magellan."
Greengrass' use of shaky handheld cameras convincingly embodies the feel of a documentary, which might cause some to be turned off by the premise's implications. Regardless of the inspirational material, however, Helgeland's script is fiction, and by no means should Green Zone be looked upon as non-fiction storytelling. The filmmakers are simply using a familiar foreground to show the danger of conspiracy, particularly on a scale as large as this.
Damon, who showed impressive versatility in The Informant! and Invictus, is back in his comfort zone with this film. In recent years, Damon has set the standard for the cinematic action hero, and although he has shown impressive control over his craft in his more dramatic performances, there is something about watching him in an action setting that can't be paralleled. It's important that the story's potential consequences are set on such a large scale, because even though Damon's character is a force to be reckoned with, there are still outside forces that his efforts cannot combat.
Green Zone also marks the continued success of Paul Greengrass. The film contains the same level of suspense that was present in his two Bourne films. Green Zone, like the Bourne pictures, is not a masterpiece by any means, but it has a firm place among the year's best action films. It has a way of telling a complicated story in very simple terms. It is sophisticated, but never too complex, and it allows the audience the pleasure of immersing themselves in the tension.
The story does unfold in a somewhat predictable manner, but it is a foreseeable conclusion that I can live with. I wouldn't have wanted it to end any other way, and I think the film's message becomes more relevant because of the conclusion. The film has received mixed response, and I suppose it is mostly because of the real-life implications that are drawn. As a word of advice, you should know that Green Zone is not a true story before (and if) you decide to see it. If you know that going into it, I see no reason why it shouldn't be an enjoyable experience. Greengrass is a master of the action film, and there's nobody better to watch uncover global corruption than Matt Damon.