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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Film review | Green Zone

Smart bomb?

by Thomas Delapa

Judging by the deadly initial returns, Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth!” might serve as the epitaph for Green Zone, director Paul Greengrass’ fictionalized Iraq War action-thriller about the U.S. search for fictional Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Perhaps it was an impossible mission that Greengrass volunteered for in this very loose adaptation of Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s 2006 best seller, Imperial Life in the Emerald City. Though Greengrass enlisted his Bourne Supremacy (and Ultimatum) star Matt Damon, he also got conscripted with a self-destructive script by Brian Helgeland, author of such duds as Man on Fire and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 remake. A few days ago, Greengrass optimistically told The Guardian that, “I’m going to see if I can bring the Bourne audience with me.”

Talk about bad intel.

From the opening shots, Green Zone recoils with a demoralizing déjà vu. We know now that the U.S.-led coalition forces never found any WMDs in Iraq, thus destroying a prime justification for the war. No chemical or biological weapons. Ditto on the notorious Nigerian “yellowcake” uranium.

In fact, what Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon) and his Army unit find is “nothing but toilet parts” in their 2003 sweep of a vanquished and bombed-out Baghdad. Despite repeated tips of hidden WMDs, Miller starts to suspect that something is rotten in the liberated state of Iraq, and it isn’t spoiled hummus.

In the seven-year itch since the Iraq invasion, Americans of all stripes have had ample opportunity to point fingers, and Greengrass rounds up some of the usual suspects in this conspiracy-movie throwback. Lining up front and center is a shifty Pentagon neocon (Greg Kinnear) who’ll go to any length to defuse allegations of disinformation or cover-up.

While the record shows that coalition forces lost the WMD battle, the liberal-minded Greengrass dispatches Damon on a quest that’s questionable in its own way: Embedded within the historical facts and documentary realism is a counter-intelligent Hollywood action vehicle. It’s notable that cinematographer Barry Ackroyd also shot the Oscar-winning Hurt Locker, a film that continually went AWOL from a believable reality. Green Zone’s techniques quickly speed off into the Greengrass Zone, where shaky cameras and furious editing ambush the storytelling.

What flashes of facts exist, they come in short bursts between the chaotic action scenes, topped by an interminable finale. As Miller, Damon hunkers down with the same sort of magnetic, steely determination that marked Jason Bourne. A loose cannon with a conscience, Miller goes rogue early, tracking down a missing Iraqi general (Yigal Naor) who may be the Sunni side of Deep Throat. Other sideline players include a skeptical CIA chief (Brendan Gleeson) and a Wall Street Journal reporter (Amy Ryan) who stands in for the duped American press.

At some risk (and not just financially), Universal launched this $100 million twilight Zone, which should at least be saluted for setting the record straight in a major motion picture, even if it comes seven years too late. The problem may not just be in Greengrass’ hyped-up Bourne-again style. Maybe this time, it’s the audience, not Jason Bourne, that’s suffering from amnesia.


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