During the US-led occupation of Baghdad in 2003, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and his team of Army inspectors are sent to find weapons of mass destruction believed to be stockpiled in Baghdad and elsewhere. The men search for deadly chemical agents but find none: instead, Miller discovers an elaborate cover-up that inverts the purpose of their mission. Torn between operatives with intersecting agendas - on the one hand, Pentagon intelligence operative Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), on the other, veteran CIA agent Brown (Brendan Gleeson) - Miller looks for answers that will either clear a rogue regime or escalate a war in an unstable region.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The Brits first made a savage political satire of it with In the Loop (Australian release January 2010) and now (released two months later in Australia) they have made a political thriller masquerading as a war action movie: Green Zone. The themes are the same, namely that the hidden Weapons of Mass Destruction over which the US invaded Iraq in 2003 were no longer in existence but this was covered up by Pentagon underlings chasing a good reason to go to war - not implying that the supreme boss knew of it. In the Loop is a bitingly hilarious work which might have been a long episode of Yes, Minister with added fuel tanks, while Green Zone is dead earnest.
To its credit, Green Zone is cast with impeccable taste by director Paul Greengrass (who made the nail biting doco drama, United 93), with each key player delivering authoritative performances, from Matt Damon's crusading Army officer Roy Miller who's furious to find the intelligence leading him and his men to empty sites, to Greg Kinnear, whose Poundstone from the Pentagon is the manipulator who fed false information from an Iraq insider into the intel system. Likewise Brendan Gleeson as the knowledgeable CIA man on the ground who can see the disaster looming if Poundstone's faction has its way ... which it does, of course, as we all know in hindsight, and the Iraq security apparatus is dismantled.
The Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) screenplay is also a plus, a solidly built framework for the exposition of the theory taken from the book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, now assistant managing editor at the Washington Post and previously bureau chief in Baghdad, before, during, and after the war. Excellent credentials. Still, it's just a hypothetical ... The problem with the theory is that it doesn't stand the common sense test, unless the relevant intelligence units in the US and UK are all actually stupidity units. If they succeed and the West invades Iraq only to find no WMDs, there is going to be much egg on many faces and heaps of shit hitting many fans. As happened. There are at least two other plausible theories that have yet to be explored as movies - see link at right for details in Editorial.
The screenplay gets inside Roy Miller and we understand him as a human being. We also meet Iraqis who give us credible insight into the complexity of Iraq's attitude to regime change. There are some lines of dialogue that sound repurposed from any number of dramas and much of the friction between Miller and Poundstone could be taken as 'stock footage'. Still, it's a script with something to say.
Greengrass orchestrates the action and the story with clarity - but he should have convinced that fine cinematographer Barry Ackroyd to leave his The Hurt Locker technique behind (he's already been nominated for a dozen awards for that). Much of Green Zone looks as though Ackroyd didn't know where to point the camera or on what or who to focus. The chaos and noise of war hardly needs emphasis by chaotic cinematography. Combined with the amplified soundtrack which mixes gunfire and a thumping great score, the film batters its audience into submission.
Review by Louise Keller:
A gritty thriller set on a backdrop of the Iraq war in 2003, when Shock and Awe covers Baghdad like a fearsome blanket, Green Zone tells a now familiar story with a new twist, about war punctuated by idealism, control and politics. Matt Damon's Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller is an idealist, whose mission to find weapons of mass destruction and save lives changes when he has to make a choice to follows orders or his own instincts.
'Democracy is messy,' Miller discovers, as the truth about the non-existent WMDs is revealed through a series of events in which he faces the realisation that politics in times of war is divisive and deadly. Manufactured evidence or unsubstantiated theory? The clues begin to congregate as intelligence points Miller and his team in the wrong direction. Communication reaches stale-mate between Greg Kinnear's manipulating damage-control agent Clark Poundstone, Brendan Gleeson's forthright CIA agent and Jason Isaacs' special forces leader out to stop Miller. Iraqi civilian Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), who becomes Miller's translator offers yet another point of view as does Amy Ryan's Lawrie Dayne, the Wall Street Journal political writer who is also is a pawn in the search for accuracy and truth.
It's easy to understand director Paul Greengrass's rationale to opt for grainy, shaky, hand-held cinematography to make us feel as though we are living through the violence with Miller, although personally, I find the constantly jumpy, blurred images tiring. Besides, jumbled images flashing repeatedly eventually lose their effect. But there is no disguising the impact Greengrass obtains as we follow Miller through the desert, into the Republican Palace and through the back streets of Baghdad as he searches for a 'high-value target' and Damon is ever-excellent as the exemplary soldier intent on nailing the truth. The story is based on Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, from which acclaimed screenwriter Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential) has penned a proficient story in the thriller genre that combines tension with political relevance.
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GREEN ZONE (M)
CAST: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Jason Isaacs, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Said Faraj, Khalid Abdalla, Michael O'NeillAntoni Corone, Yigal Naor, Raad Rawi
PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lloyd Levin
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
SCRIPT: Brian Helgeland (book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Barry Ackroyd
EDITOR: Christopher Rouse
MUSIC: John Powell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dominic Watkins
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 11, 2010