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March 10, 2010

Green Zone

Too Little Too Late
Paul Greengrass Switches Teams, But to What End?
By Cole Smithey

Green-zone-poster Director Paul Greengrass attempts to overcompensate for his unthinkably flat 2006 propaganda piece United 93 with a shaky-cam Iraq war picture. Carrying the moldy message that nonexistent "weapons of mass destruction" were a manufactured excuse for the war, Greengrass misses no opportunity to rattle his camera so that the story never has a chance to breathe. Without scratching the surface of the Bush administration's intended purpose of permanently robbing Iraq its oil resources, the Baghdad-set action (circa 2003) hits the ground running as one very long and overplayed chase sequence. Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is fed up with leading his team of Army inspectors on fruitless missions to uncover WMD due to faulty intel. Greg Kinnear plays Pentagon baddie intelligence operative Clark Poundstone, whose shite-eating-grin matches George Bush Junior's smug expression when he announces "mission accomplished" on a Republican Palace (a.k.a. Green Zone) cafeteria television. Back-slapping soldiers approve of Bush's brief victory lap from the safety of their cushy protected Iraq home. If they only knew then what we know now. Oh wait, they did know then.

The Green Zone's title has nothing to do with the story, but that's of little consequence in a film, whose message could be written on the tip of Dick Cheney's cruel nose with a felt tip Magic Marker. Self-righteous Officer Miller is so offended by the lie he naively signed on for that he covertly teams up with seasoned CIA good guy Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson). Brown is presented as a Robert Baer type of veteran intel man whose years of on-the-ground experience in Iraq and the Middle East should make his opinions and ideas essential to any military operation there. Instead, Brown is viewed by the likes of Poundstone as a rogue agent, good only for what intel can be stripped away from him to protect Bush's illegitimate war. One message that comes across loud and clear from Gleeson's character is that the U.S. military's decision to abandon the Iraqi Army, rather than include them in their "peace-keeping" operations, polarized the group of armed and trained soldiers against U.S. forces in a dynamically lasting way.

Miller lucks into a helpful Iraqi called "Freddy" (Khalid Abdalla), who leads Miller and a few of his soldiers to raid a meeting house where General Al Rawi (Yigal Naor), one of the hate-mongers in Bush's infamous "deck-of-cards," is making anti-American plans. Iraqi blood is shed during the assault, and Miller snatches a coded book (read MacGuffin) that both Poundstone and Brown have primary use for. In the first of several ghost-in-the-machine moments, a Special Forces squad--led by Jason Issacs in badass mode--immediately descend out of nowhere from helicopters to steal the journal away from Miller, who wisely passes it off in the heat of the moment to Freddy for provisional safe keeping.

Screenwriter Brian Helgeland (Mystic River) slips into so many plot holes that a return to Robert McKee's screenplay workshop might be a worthy consideration. A Wall Street Journal columnist named Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) hits the screen as such a dubious plot device that you half expect to hear a sad trombone go wah-wahh-wahhh whenever she comes into frame. 

One of many other such glaring flaws is the utter lack of kinship between Officer Miller and his men, or between any of the characters for that matter. Everybody seems to be acting in their own private story. It's fine to envision Matt Damon working in an extension of his Jason Bourne loner spy character, but then why not just make another Bourne action movie and set it in Iraq? It seems odd that the same cinematographer (Barry Ackroyd) that shot "The Hurt Locker" is the man behind the camera here. So unrelentingly spastic are the non-stop camera movements that you feel shaken-not-stirred when the closing credits finally roll. Green Zone is clearly intended as an agitprop movie in love with itself for transmitting a dated message about the several trillions of dollars the U.S. Government has squandered over the past seven years to "create democracy in Iraq," as founded on a purely artificial premise. The film is so far behind the times as to be comical. If it had come out in 2004, it might have had some bite. But then if there were even a spot of humor in any of this, perhaps it might ease our global heartache and headache--if only by a degree. If only. If only.

(Universal Pictures) Rated R for violence and language. 115 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)
 

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