Thanks to “The Bourne Supremacy” and “Ultimatum,” Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon are as respected and successful as any director-star action duo working today, and deservedly so. The pair’s latest effort, “Green Zone,” tarnishes that legacy.
If you’re going to make a film about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction and the run-up to the Iraq War, with the events still fresh in everyone’s minds, you need to offer a new angle and/or make it a ripping good yarn. But as “Green Zone” follows Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (played by Damon) in the hunt for WMD, it fails to do either. Instead, it gives us a Cliff’s Notes version of the events that neither engages nor inflames, and is, worse still, boring.
“Green Zone” rather limply and lamely leans toward calling out the Bush Administration, but puts most of the blame on Clark Poundstone (played by Greg Kinnear), a riff on Paul Bremer (sans Timberlands). It’s an origin that fails to give the Left its pound of flesh or the Right its vindication.
The fictionalization of Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter who, depending on your politics, was a shameless propagandist for the Bush party line or a great journalist who, like much of the world, was misled by bad intel, is odd as well. Changing her affiliation from the NYT to the Wall Street Journal is such a thin cover that more than anything arouses suspicions about Helgeland’s motivations. Is he trying to protect the Times? Implicate the Journal?
If you’re going to dramatize real events, you need to sex things up, have some fun, offer new perspectives… Instead, we watch Damon’s character dutifully hop from plot point to plot point: There are no WMDs!...Something’s amiss...Bad intel...De-Baathification...MIssion Accomplished...And on and on.
Compounding matters is that the film is – irrespective of its politics or accuracy – boring. Much of the action is dulled by darkness, out-of-focus shots and kinetic camera work. Yes, the fog of war and all that, but could we please see something?
And all this is to say nothing of the almost embarrassing litany of similarities between “Zone” and “Ultimatum,” with Kinnear in the David Strathairn role, Amy Ryan as Paddy Considine with a splash of Joan Allen, Magellan as Blackbriar… there’s a even a nameless assassin dispatched to snuff out our hero.
If Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland really wanted to split the difference while staking out a bold and controversial position, they could have framed the war as the tragic case of the unintended consequences of good intentions run amok – that at least might’ve been something to think about, offering some larger lessons to both sides. Alas, no.
Rather than digging deep into the wounds of the Iraq War or offering a path to healing, “Green Zone” picks distractedly at the scab just enough to make it mildly irritating for a brief time, offering no satisfaction.