Green Zone
All I want is an autograph, these guys are taking it a bit too far.

Theatrical Release Date: 03/12/2010
Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Khalid Abdalla, Yigal Naor, Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs

“Jason Bourne Goes to Iraq”. That’s been the early word about “Green Zone” and while that’s definitely been the marketing push and there are plenty of similarities, it doesn’t do the film justice.

Yes, director Paul Greengrass helmed the last two Bourne installments with Matt Damon. However, this time around, we aren’t dealing with a super spy who can take out a room full of bad guys with a click pen and a book while getting Lola to run into his arms. Here, Damon is playing a soldier charged with using supposedly solid intelligence to find Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in 2003 Iraq. But after coming up empty on numerous missions and utilizing CIA and media contacts, he begins to piece together the dubious nature of the highly valued intelligence. As he falls deeper and deeper into this particular rabbit hole, the powers that be attempt to thwart his every move in order to save public and political face.

The film is in part based on the book ‘Imperial Life in the Emerald City’ by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, former Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post. It chronicles the posh, American lifestyle within the confines of the Green Zone during the first year of postwar Iraq – all the while government officials are bungling any attempt at currying favor and trust with the locals which, in Chandrasekaran’s opinion led to an escalation in violence against U.S. troops.

And while Greengrass took great strides to ensure as much military realism as possible through casting of former soldiers involved in WMD hunting, the large majority of the film is straight fiction, thanks to “L.A. Confidential” and “Mystic River” screenwriter Brian Helgeland. There are certainly a lot of nods to real events and a historical time line that the script adheres to but as the “Dragnet” saying goes, “Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent”.

As is expected, Greengrass employs his signature shaky-cam style to the project. After seeing a number of his films all done this way however, it’s hard for one to determine whether continuing to use this technique is really necessary. While it worked amazingly well for “Bloody Sunday” and “United 93“, the cynic in me wonders if he could go another way and rent a steadicam for once. I think, for the most part, it works here as well – by creating a sense of putting the audience right in with the action – but the slightly discombobulated feeling one feels as your inner ear resets itself isn’t quite a picnic in the park.

Another film making choice I question here is the cinematography. It’s technically well composed by director of photography Barry Ackroyd (who was recently Oscar nominated for his work on “The Hurt Locker“), however, once the nighttime shots began, he and Greengrass decided to go for the ultra grainy look. While it presents a sense of realism, it too felt like another cinematic gimmick rather than something purely organic. It’s clear the pair know how to shoot military scenes but the overload of this technique is wearing thin on those of us who see it over and over and over again – so perhaps more personal bias than professional.

There is also clearly a political bias in the film, though I’m not one to necessarily disagree with it. Helgeland, Greengrass and the producers wanted to tell a fictional story rooted in real events that showcased how Americans were duped into starting a war in Iraq. Some may find it odd to see that a Western perspective is given to Iraqi characters and it’s up to the viewer to determine whether that works or not. The film is like a 20/20 hindsight, fictitiously historical look (try that word combo with your college professor) at how the U.S. got involved, complete with moral judgment and rationalization.

Still, for the military film fans out there, “Green Zone” hits most of the marks and as long as you aren’t going to find the anti-Bush sentiment offensive and can put aside the obvious references to real people in this quasi-realistic but ultimately fictional tale, you’ll enjoy the film. A 3 out of 5, this doesn’t break new ground in the genre and there are plenty of better recent films you could see instead (“Black Hawk Down”, “The Kingdom“), though I will say it made me go home and immediately start playing ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2′. At the end of the day, though, I was excited to see it and I’m happy to have done so. That’s all we really need out of a film experience, isn’t it?

One other thing to keep in mind is that the film was pushed from the fall of 2009 to its current March 2010 release date. While I’ve yet to find any concrete fact as to why it was moved, speculation fluctuates between Greengrass’ editorial perfectionism to Damon already having films considered Oscar bait floating around (“The Informant!“, “Invictus“). Just something I thought worth mentioning, take it for what you will.