Bourne star and director make another fun political thriller
Green Zone’s conspicuous Bourne pedigree—same star, same director, same frantic rogue-warrior action—works to good advantage in drawing us into its tale of the twisted outset of the war in Iraq. But once it has you hooked on the drama, once you’re immersed in the moral and political travesties of a war fought in the name of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the Bourne connection leaves Green Zone muddling about in a small identity crisis of it own making.
Director Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, United 93, two Bourne movies) has a real gift for high-energy, yanked-from-the headlines storytelling, and his mixtures of combat action and behind-the-scenes political drama are briskly engaging throughout this picture. But the rogue-warrior scheme doesn’t fully suit this quasi-military/detective story with a somewhat trumped-up streak of disillusionment running through it.
Green Zone’s narrative rush does make a couple of trenchant detours away from the hero/warrior model—one when Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is kidnapped by rival forces and thereby rendered absent from a small but significant stretch of the action, and another when the story’s ultimate coup de grâce comes not from Miller, but rather from a secondary character of a very different and unexpected sort. And the standard war-movie action is temporarily thrown for an ironic loop when the internal conflicts between the CIA and the Pentagon’s special forces burst out into a little shooting war of their own.
But Greengrass’ film is doing double duty as a kind of socio-political exposé—the WMD scam of 2003 is old but still painful news—and that means Green Zone has to call a few more pertinent characters into play. They include a Pentagon honcho (Greg Kinnear), a CIA officer (Brendan Gleeson), an investigative reporter (Amy Ryan), and two Iraqis, a Ba’athist general (Igal Naor) angling for a new post-invasion role and Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), a battered war veteran who becomes Miller’s unofficial aide.
In Brian Helgeland’s script, each of these figures is little more than a credible composite, an emblem of assorted role players in recent history that has by now been widely reported. And whatever reality they have as individual characters is mostly limited to their function as foils to Miller.
Gleeson’s rumpled, dour CIA agent looks as though he’s wandered in from a Graham Greene novel, but that’s not the zone this movie is in. Kinnear is a good choice for the Pentagon mouthpiece, although he gets no chance to make the guy into something more than an ironic stock figure.
Abdalla’s Freddy is the one character in the bunch who might haunt you after you’ve left the theater, but that comes too late for either you or the movie to do much with it. Still, I’m glad they got Freddy and the others into it, and it’s good that they were able to tell this story in a way that has some bite to it, politically and cinematically.