Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Film Review - Green Zone

Writer: Brian Helgeland, based on a book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Director: Paul Greengrass
Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lloyd Levin, Paul Greengrass
Cast: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Khalid Abdalla, Jason Isaacs, Yigal Naor
Political Action Thriller, 1 hour 55 minutes

Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass have reunited after working on The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum to make Green Zone. It’s a taut, smart, and well-made action movie with Damon playing an upstanding American soldier stationed in Iraq. After the recent awards successes of The Hurt Locker, there may have been some expectation that people were capable of handling Iraq war movies. But perhaps people were forgetting that The Hurt Locker was the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner ever (accounting for inflation).

Nonetheless, The Hurt Locker was very well received by the critics. American critics haven’t been as kind to Green Zone. It only got a 52% rating at I find this fascinating, since Green Zone is equally as good as the Bourne movies (which were both very well-received) if not better. It isn’t any more political than the Bourne movies or The Hurt Locker.

Some would argue that The Hurt Locker might even be more left-leaning. But The Hurt Locker did manage to avoid presenting any sort of moral equation about who were good guys and who were the bad guys. Except for the most extreme blowhards, it was the kind of movie that people of any political stripe could watch.

Green Zone does show that some of the Americans are bad guys. But the Bourne movies did that too, and no one felt that any kind of blanket condemnation was being made of the U.S. With each of these Greengrass/Damon films, we get the sense that there are good guys and bad guys everywhere and it’s up to us to make sense of it.

In Green Zone, Damon’s Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller and his men are good soldiers and determined to do their jobs as well as possible. The film even takes it easy on the CIA, as represented by Brendan Gleeson’s character Martin Brown, the CIA Baghdad bureau chief. He wants to make sure that Iraq is stable and doesn’t descend into civil war. The real bad guy is Clark Poundstone from the Pentagon played by Greg Kinnear. He represents the Bush administration and their greed-driven agenda that cared neither for the people of Iraq nor the soldiers. Amy Ryan plays Lawrie Dayne the Wall Street Journal patsy, based on Judith Miller of The New York Times, oddly enough.

This last point may be why the American media is as reticent with this movie as the American public is. It shows the media’s complicity in the Iraq war and their unwillingness to dig deeper. The only people brave enough to speak out against the Iraq war in the early days were some Hollywood celebrities and comedians like Jon Stewart and Michael Moore. So perhaps this film hits too close to home with American journalists in showing that they were asleep at the switch.

The reception overseas with both critics and the general public has been much better. Those types of political concerns are more objectively understood and accepted. In the U.S. there are still far too many who believe that the war in Iraq was justified, and that criticism of George W. Bush is somehow traitorous (but somehow the most despicable things can be said about Barack Obama).

Green Zone has gotten an unfair shake. It’s a movie that like others mentioned can be enjoyed purely as a slick, adrenaline-filled action movie. It doesn’t really hit you over the head with its politics except for what we all know already. If people actually go to see it, only the most extreme right-wing wackos will have a problem. For the rest of us, especially for non-Americans, there’s nothing wrong with it. I suspect that its stature as a film will improve over time.

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