Saturday, March 13, 2010
TEFB REVIEW: GREEN ZONE
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendon Gleeson, Jason Isaacs
The Bourne Occupancy. Call of Duty: Modern Bournefare. The Bourne Locker. Call Green Zone what you want, just don't call it slow. It's liable to turn around and drive a jeep through you. Director Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon collaborate for a third time, bringing back the visceral thrills and energy they created onscreen with the last two Jason Bourne films. This time, though, they're working within the confines of real-world events.
Matt Damon is Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, tasked with leading his team in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. Dedicated to the mission, Miller and his team keep coming up empty handed at supposed WMD site after WMD site. He begins to question the intelligence coming in regarding the location of the weapons, and soon finds himself forced to choose between two sides, one led by Pentagon Special Forces point-man Clark Poundstone (Greg Kennear), and the other being CIA Baghdad bureau chief Martin Brown. Brown believes the newly liberated Iraq should be eased into a new form of leadership and suggests the appointment of Al Rawi, a Baath party member who, while deadly, could help keep warring factions together while the U.S. helps the country transform into a democracy. Poundstone disagrees and, while planning to dismantle Iraq's military (believing they are all loyal to Saddamn Hussein and will not cooperate with American troops) is charged with making sure new leadership takes swift command in Iraq in the form of Ahmed Zubadi, a politician unfamiliar with the way the country has operated for the past few decades. Miller sides with Brown, and much of the movie is spent following Miller as he tracks Al Rawi and a Special Forces team, led by Briggs (an unrecognizable Jason Issacs), tracks Miller.
Green Zone is, like much of Greengrasses work, relentlessly fast paced and exciting. If nothing else, this film moves. Those wary of Greengrasses shaky-cam would be wise to stay away. While not as prevalent as in the last Bourne film, the Green Zone's camera work is still of the hand-held variety, and very rarely does the camera stay still. That's not to say the action scenes are unintelligible, though. Geography and choreography are still easily viewed, even when the camera whips and bounces around to different characters firing at each other. The extended battle that mark the end of the film is a particularly awesome and exhilarating action sequence. Large chunks of plot are told in scenes that don't take a minute to slow down, keeping the audience involved and on their toes. It's really bravura filmmaking on Greengrasses part that he can make a film so kinetic and fluid, while still finding the time to develop character and plot.
Matt Damon continues his string of strong work, even if the character of Roy Miller is a little on the thin side. Although Miller has come into the war believing he will find WMD, he's already questioning his commanders at the beginning of the film, and we never really see the change from unquestioning "do as I am commanded" soldier to anti-authority renegade. Those expecting an untouchable, invincible Jason Bourne from Miller should be warned. As Green Zone is more grounded in the real world, you will not see Miller taking out enemies with a rolled up magazine. Greg Kinnear also stands out as the slimy, sneering Poundstone.
The performance that caught me most off-guard, though, was from Khalid Abdalla who plays an Iraqi named Freddy who is out to help Miller. Abdalla, who first impressed me as the lead hijacker in Greengrasses United 93, adds layers to what I at first through would be an annoying side-kick role. Abdalla brings much pathos and emotion to Freddy, who gets the film's best character moment (a moment which condenses the films themes down to one line) and reminds us that amid all the squabbling of what should and should not be done with Iraq by other countries (and the squabbling that still continues) there are average, every day people that just want to lead normal lives at the center of the argument.
The film is based on the non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City - an account of post-Saddam Iraq - but has been adapted in a way that uses the events told in the book as a skeletal structure to make an action movie within. It's a blending of fiction and non-fiction that's really quite interesting. I would have liked to see more time spent in the actual Green Zone - Saddam's former Republican Palace now occupied by various international agencies and bureaucrats. An occupier's paradise within a war-zone, where beer flows freely and beautiful women are aplenty. Sadly, Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland choose to spend only one scene there, making it just a stop on the way to the next full-throttle action scene.
Make no mistake, Green Zone wears its political viewpoint on its sleeve. Greengrass and Helgeland are very critical of the decisions made by the prior administration during the weeks, months, and years after Saddam fell, and for all the action involved their message is never lost amongst the explosions, chases, and gunfights. It's almost too easy to label this film as a lefty anti-Iraq war film, though. There are little moments throughout the movie and a line said at the end that forces arm-chair pundits on both sides to take a step back and re-evaluate the steps we are taking and the frame of mind we so stubbornly choose to cling to when it comes to the war. When all is said and done, the film presents an optimistic outlook on the future of Iraq.
Greengrass and Damon have crafted yet another fine action thriller in Green Zone. Those looking for a two hour adrenaline rush would be wise to make haste to the nearest theater.