Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Green Zone (2010) – Review

Green Zone is a mix between a great thriller and interesting, if not heavy-handed at times, political review of the early days of the Iraq war. The film works best as a thriller set against the backdrop of the war. Director Paul Greengrass, known for his overly documentary style, is able to engage the audience as they follow the exploits of Matt Damon – he tries to uncover the mystery behind why he cannot find any WMDs at the sites that are supposed to have them, while navigating the obstacles he faces. Greengrass’ style puts the audience in the same shoes as the characters. It is chaotic, blurry and yet effective in many ways. While not everyone likes his style (his use of almost entirely handheld camerawork), those willing to accept it will be submersed in the business of the scenes – which is just what a great thriller does. However, this is not just a thriller, it is also blatantly a political statement about the current war in Iraq – in that its villain is almost a completely unveiled summation of those in the Bush Administration that put forth evidence (now generally accepted as bad, unverified and false) that lead to us going into Iraq – aka the WMDs that they supposedly had. The villain is completely plausible if the movie took place in another context, in terms of what generally makes up movie villains, yet here it is somewhat hard to believe that this villain could do all that he did alone. Though, returning to the reality of what actually did happen, it did not take many to convince the masses and congress and the senate to go to war either. But more to the point of the movie, Greengrass wanted to tell a story that was simple and easy to understand and he did just that, the one villain makes the most sense in a simple film structure. The villain also works in the context of Greengrass’ apparent political views on the war (again as a summation of those in the Bush Administration) is his complete confidence in the fact that he truly believes that he is doing what is best and right, that the end justifies the means, and that no one else, minus a few characters in the CIA (which again harkens back to real life), seems to really care, rather they are content to go to war without fully breaking down the data and checking it in detail. Greengrass does look at other aspects of the early days of the war that are not as commonly known as well. The film suggests that instead of bringing outsiders in and disbanding the current ruling party and military, the US should have worked with members of the ruling party and military to stabilize and police the country. Of course, today, there is no telling what would have happen had that occurred, but it is somewhat obvious that the plan taken has been an utter failure. Another aspect of the film that works quite well and separates it from the other Damon Greengrass collaborations (the Bourne films) is that Damon’s character is not a superman action hero. He is just a regular soldier, not even a high ranking one. He is good at his job, but there is a scene in which he is effectively taken down in a fight, showing that there is nothing special about him. The thing that is different, though, is that he is not completely willing to just follow and take orders – he questions why his intel is bad and when he does not get adequate answers, he digs deeper. While many of the characters are just content to follow, it is Damon’s story as he wants to uncover the truth. Greengrass does get a little preachy at times through in his political views – best seen in the final shot of the film, Damon’s unit off on another mission driving past a huge oil refinery suggesting that the real reason for the US being there is oil. One of the best parts of Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s narrative is the perspective of Iraq characters and how they interact and impact the story. Their perspectives give insight into the situation (at least that of the film) for the viewers to have more of a holistic understanding and perspective. And while some of the political elements of the film will rub some viewers the wrong way, as they are forced upon the story, the narrative structure of the film is strong and captivating, mixing action, mystery, suspense, and drama well. On the technical side, Damon’s performance is very good in the film. As sort of the everyman (to some extent), he is able to guide the viewer through the story as it unfolds. Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson and Jason Issacs (as usual) give good supporting performances. Greg Kinnear is adept at delivering a pompous ego and morally driven villain (moral being that which he believes to be right, even if it means doing things generally considered wrong). Two standouts are Yigal Naor and Khalid Abdalla. Their performances are key to rooting the film in reality and giving more perspective to the overall narrative. Like The Hurt Locker, Barry Ackroyd provides gritty docu-style cinematography that compliments Greengrass and the subject matter. Editor Christopher Rouse also does standout work cutting the film. Dominic Watkins’ production design is also great, especially in the ‘Green Zone’ scenes, which is somewhat new territory design wise for Iraq war films. All in all, Generation Kill is still the best of the Iraq war films, miniseries and/or TV series, but Green Zone, while completely fictional, plays both as an excellent thriller (though alienating for some due to its director’s visual style) and an intriguing look at the politics (though seemingly slanted) behind the motives for why the US went into Iraq, and to a lesser extent how the people there, both Iraqi and military/government/CIA, initially felt about it. 8/10

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