About 3.8 square miles, the Green Zone was an area in the center of Baghdad that was HQ for the Coalition Provisional Authority. In other words, it’s where the invading nations hung out, sipping drinks, sunning by the pool and, in back rooms, falsifying reports to be spoon-fed to select journalists for media consumption back home.
At least, that’s the impression given by the new politico-military thriller “Green Zone,” directed by Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum (Widescreen Edition)“) and written by Brian Helgeland (“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3“), suggested by the book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the former Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post.
Matt Damon (“Invictus“) stars as Chief Warrant Officer Miller, an American soldier who knows his job and performs it to perfection. In 2003, he and his men have been assigned the task of raiding locations identified by a mysterious Iraqi insider as storage places for weapons of mass destruction “ you remember, the WMD over which we went to war in Iraq in the first place.
Miller’s problem is that sometimes his men die in the performance of their duty, and the last three targets of their raids have resulted in the capture of nothing more than toilet parts and 10-year-old pigeon crap. He knows that the insider intelligence is useless, but he can’t find anyone in authority who will listen to him. It’s almost as if no one wants to learn that there are no WMD, because that would eliminate our reason for invading and staying in Iraq.
His unauthorized investigation “ and the mysteries it raises “ deepens when an Iraqi national named Freddy (Khalid Abdalla, “The Kite Runner“) tells him a meeting of high-ranking Iraqi officials is underway nearby. One of them is Gen. Al Rawi (Igal Naor, “Munich“), head of Saddam Hussein’s now-deposed security forces. Al Rawi escapes, but Miller confiscates a notebook, and everyone wants it with such fervor that he decides to hide it, at least until he can figure out what’s in it.
He’s approached by the genial Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear, “Flash of Genius“), a civilian representative of the White House, who asks Miller to help him find the notebook, as a favor. Then Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson, “In Bruges“), who is with the CIA, tries to recruit Miller as a covert agent, and Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan, “Changeling“), the reporter from The Wall Street Journal to whom Poundstone has been feeding disinformation, wants to know what Miller has to do with Brown.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Greengrass and Helgeland make the loyalties of the players clear to us, even if we can’t be certain how the notebook will be used, depending on who ultimately gets it. Would Dayne blow the lid off Poundstone’s lies? How does Brown intend to use the information the notebook contains? How much human collateral damage is Poundstone willing to accept to keep his secrets about WMD hidden?
All we know for certain is that Miller is a man of conscience and good sense and he knows that Americans dying for a lie is wrong.
“What are we going to do,” he asks Poundstone, “the next time we need people to trust us?”
The real reason for going to war in Iraq is left up in the air until the film’s final shot, and even then, you have to do a little addition. The motive the movie offers is no surprise “ it’s just so damn frustrating.
There is an underlying tragedy to “Green Zone,” which is downplayed. It surfaces most clearly during a scene in which American soldiers cheer for President Bush delivering his “mission accomplished” speech.
This is certainly not an antimilitary movie, not even an antiwar film. It’s an antiwar-based-on-BS film. The troops on the ground are the real heroes here, doing their jobs with the presumption that their cause is just.
The movie is also pure action, beginning with a raid and continuing at a clip that would shame most serials. Even the exposition scenes are presented while the characters walk briskly from one place to another. Note, however, that if the shaky, handheld camera work in Greengrass’ “Bourne” thrillers made you queasy, this picture is more of the same. “Doug Bentin