While it’s admirable when a director tries to do something more than blowing things up in a war movie—as Kathryn Bigelow did successfully with The Hurt Locker—good intentions are never enough. Witness the thrown-together optical assault that is Green Zone. Watching this film creates the sensation that your eyes are little soccer balls being kicked around by athletically enthused, hyperactive gremlins residing inside your skull.
Director Paul “Camera Mounts and Tripods are for Pussies!” Greengrass makes another one of his jumpy, handheld films, as if he’s afraid to let the image come to rest on star Matt Damon, who he worked with on two Bourne movies. Green Zone has an intriguing message at its core, but botches its delivery by getting a little too spastic with the camera, and far too heavy-handed in the transmission of its “America Fucked up Royally in Iraq” message. You’ll either vomit from motion sickness or the overwrought, overcooked dialogue.
Damon, in what was surely a decent performance before the cameraman got ants in his pants, plays U.S. Army soldier Miller, hunting for weapons of mass destruction in 2003, the early days of the Iraq war. When intel leads him to toilet part warehouses and machinery strewn with bird shit, he gets a sinking feeling that he’s fighting a war based upon lies.
While Miller and his team are digging for nothing deep in Iraq, a townie named Freddy (Khalid Abdalla) shows up claiming that he saw notorious General Al Rawi (Igal Naor) having a meeting in a nearby house. Rawi is the Jack of Clubs in America’s “most wanted” deck of cards, so Miller decides to defy orders and go on a covert mission. He narrowly misses capturing the target, and finds himself plunged into all kinds of intrigue.
With the exception of a crazed, by-the-book soldier called Briggs (Jason Isaacs) this is not a war film that portrays American soldiers as totally crazy assholes, like Brian De Palma’s godawful Redacted. Actually, this one shows the soldiers as some of the only ones with a clue as to what’s going on. On that note, it’s refreshing to see an Army soldier treated with deserved dignity in regard to modern war. Not all soldiers are suicidal bomb dismantlers or gangbang rapists.
This film’s main villains aren’t necessarily the snipers taking shots at American soldiers. The big baddie is Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), a Pentagon official who seems to know that the rules were bent a little when it came to accepting and verifying WMD tips. He’s essentially pitted against the CIA, represented by Brendan Gleeson in a strange role, an honorable man seeking the truth and conspiring with Miller to find it.
I’m not saying this movie is dishonest in its portrayal of America’s mess-up on the whole WMD thing. It’s quite bold and probably as close to the truth as we’ll get at the cinemas. Politics aside, this is sloppy moviemaking with decent actors playing hollow characters. My eyes rolled in reaction to the film’s finale, involving perhaps the most obvious and derivative line of dialogue in a movie so far this year.
By the time Damon and Kinnear have their final square-off, Green Zone has veered into pure cartoon territory. The confrontation actually culminates with Miller trying to beat up Poundstone and getting held back by guards. It plays like Poundstone is the school bully, and Miller is pissed at him for stealing his lunch money on the playground.
The movie literally lacks focus, and feels like a videogame junkie wrote it after reading about the Iraq war on Wikipedia. Like the soldiers put on the ground fruitlessly searching for WMDs in Baghdad, Green Zone lacks the proper intelligence.