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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Greengrass’ film is in the ‘Zone’

Published: March 26, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

No film dealing with the war in Iraq has done well at the box office. Hollywood has certainly tried, but film after film—think of “Brothers,” “The Messenger,” even “The Hurt Locker”—has failed to attract an audience. Americans collectively don’t appear to be interested in seeing the evening news play itself out at the multiplex.

Director Paul Greengrass’ “Green Zone” is this trend’s most recent casualty, grossing only $26 million thus far on a $100 million budget, which is unfortunate because, while not quite as spectacular as “The Hurt Locker,” the film is certainly worth seeing.

“Green Zone” chronicles the attempt by warrant officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) to find out the truth behind the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Initially assigned to search sites that reportedly contain weapons of mass destruction, Miller becomes suspicious of U.S. intelligence when site after site turns up empty. His search puts him squarely between CIA bureau chief Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), who believes intelligence may have been fabricated, and Pentagon official Clark Brownstone (Greg Kinnear), the man who may have been responsible for the fabrication. With some assistance from Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), a reporter for the Wall Street Journal who wrote multiple articles endorsing government intelligence before the outbreak of the war, Miller comes closer to uncovering the truth.

“Green Zone” is an unabashedly political film in which the Republican officials depicted willfully withhold information from the public for nefarious reasons. It’s no accident that the final shot of the film consists of Miller driving by an Iraqi oil field, suggesting a possible ulterior motive for the invasion. By incorporating Dayne’s character, the film also comments on the role journalists played in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Dayne blindly trusts intelligence provided to her by government officials and fails to fact check anything for her articles.

Some have contended that the film is anti-American, yet this hardly appears to be the case: only bureaucracy is shown as being corrupted, while the American people themselves—represented in this film by Miller—hunger for the truth.

Some of the film’s political statements are a bit overcooked and could benefit from more subtlety. One of the most potent examples of this is the presence of Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), a veteran of the Iraq-Iran War who becomes Miller’s translator. Time and time again he reminds Miller that Iraq is his country and that his countrymen will ultimately be the ones who will decide its future.

While this message is certainly valid, Freddy’s only purpose within the movie seems to be to reinforce this statement repeatedly. One of the film’s climatic moments actually stems from this, and it managed to elicit both groans and laughter at the screening I attended.

Indeed, if the film suffers from any specific flaw, it is that its plot is a bit too simplistic. There are explicit good and bad guys; there is little in the way of gray characterization, the Dayne character aside. It’s difficult to believe that everything about the war could be uncovered over the course of a few days, especially considering that it’s been seven years and this has yet to occur in reality.

For the most part, acting in the film is solid. Damon imbues the central character with a likability that makes you root for him throughout even though he at times risks being too good to be compelling. Ryan, best known for her Oscar nominated turn in “Gone Baby Gone,” makes the most of her few moments on-screen, though often her character seems to do little but lurk in the shadows. Kinnear also does the best he can with a character who seems one step removed from twirling his mustache.

The film’s direction is also strong. Greengrass employs his trademark shaky cam to give the film a documentary feeling, making the narrative seem like a genuine artifact from the invasion of Iraq. Of course, opinions on this differ; others with whom I watched it found it to be distracting. At the same time, others who I watched it with found it distracting.

Though suffering from a simplistic plot with sometimes thinly-sketched characters, “Green Zone” is still an intriguing attempt at coping with U.S. involvement in Iraq. It certainly does not deserve the chilly reception it has received.