Note: This commentary contains "spoilers." It won't spoil anything if you've seen the trailer for the film (which, like most trailers, gives away way too much) or if you've been paying any attention to news for the past seven years, but if you want to go into the film knowing as little as possible, see the movie before reading this.
Green Zone, the new Greengrass-Damon collaboration, feels like a natural extension of the Bourne films they made together. Damon's hero is a smidge less far-fetched, though he still gets his Bourne-like action movie moment, and the political concerns are a bit more prominent, though they're still couched in a movie that is concerned first and foremost with being entertaining. And it is entertaining, even when the guns aren't blazing. Greengrass creates a sense of heightened activity and unrest in Baghdad, demonstrating again, as he did in the Bourne films and United 93, his talent for immersing us in locations that feel real. When action does break out, it's thrilling and visceral. But it was the political concerns that drew me to the film. I expect that some comparisons to The Hurt Locker may be made, but the two films actually have little in common in my view. Locker is set during the Iraq war, but it is about the psychology of its central character. Green Zone is about the war. Damon's character is just the tool the film uses to raise its questions.
Green Zone takes place in 2003, and Matt Damon's Roy Miller is on the ground in Baghdad to search for the WMDs that were Bush's excuse for sending us there. In location after location, Miller and his team come up empty. Miller starts to get frustrated, and to ask unpleasant questions about the source and quality of their intel. In doing so, he's clearly standing in for many of us who remember the frustration of those months, the sense that we as a nation had let ourselves be duped. He raises the questions with his superiors, with government officials and with Lawrie Dayne (the always excellent Amy Ryan), a Wall Street Journal reporter whose stories have supported the administration's claims about WMDs. Her stories make repeated reference to an Iraqi informant named Magellan. Miller's pursuit of Magellan leads both to the film's biggest and best action chase sequence, and to Miller discovering the truth we now all know about the existence of WMDs in Iraq.
The film smartly takes its title from the heavily protected zone in the heart of Baghdad that is depicted here as a luxurious area of babes and beer. It's appropriate because life in that zone betrays none of the tumult going on just outside, because the administration's policies were foolhardy and hopelessly out of touch with reality. It may be that in years to come, this will be one of the films that helps define our view of the war. But it's just a bit too ham-fisted in its handling of the questions that drive it to be the film the Bush administration's manipulation of the American people deserves. At one point, Miller confronts the smarmy government official who, in the film's version of events, seems to be single-handedly responsible for engineering the WMD deception, and yells, “The reasons we go to war always matter!” It's too precise in its confrontation of an issue that made many of us feel misled and deeply unsatisfied. Trying to vicariously deliver the satisfaction we'll never get from that situation feels a bit like cheating here.
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