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Movie review: “The Green Zone”

This post was written by Hatchet Reporter Kathryn Beard.

AMC Georgetown Loews (Thriller; R)

Warrant Officer Roy Miller, played by Matt Damon, is the epitome of a perfect soldier. Well groomed and singularly dedicated, he is resolved to not only carry out his mission, but hold it to the highest of moral standards.  As the central character in “The Green Zone,” the latest thriller from director Paul Greengrass, Miller single-handedly takes on the American leadership in the opening days of the 2003 Iraq invasion.

The film opens with the initial bombing of Baghdad, but immediately shifts to four weeks later by depicting life in the Green Zone, the U.S. military encampment inside the war-torn city.  There, a complicated cast of characters is attempting to hold the military campaign together amid the threat of looming Iraqi generals and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) gone M.I.A.

Miller’s unit is assigned the near impossible task of locating the WMDs. After weeks of faulty intelligence, the warrant officer begins to question the truth behind the invasion. What follows is a wild search around the dust-cloaked city that brings Miller in contact with shady U.S. officials, haggard CIA agents, naive reporters and gun-toting members of Saddam Hussein’s army.

“The Green Zone” marks the reunion of Damon and Greengrass, who directed the star in the last two Jason Bourne films. Staying true to his directorial style, Greengrass and his camera don’t stop moving from the opening bombing raid to the climatic final chase. As the soldiers race through narrow alleys, the camera follows, swinging and panning from deserted doorways to overhead helicopters.  The viewer sees what Miller sees.  The hand-held digital style succeeds in conveying a sense of confusion and distortion, but grows repetitive after multiple non-stop action sequences.

Damon succeeds in carrying the film, even with the limitations unfairly imposed on him by the script and the director.  Yet his character remains undefined and rather unrealistic.  Clean-shaven and inexplicably well dressed, Miller gallivants around the city in a nicely tied neck scarf and pressed clothing.  After a brawl, he neatly wipes the few drops of blood off of his clearly broken nose.  While others around him appear war weary and disheveled in the Iraqi heat, Miller remains full of vim and vigor, ready to fight for justice.  His motivation is also unclear. What would compel the young military man to transform into a modern day Woodward and Bernstein, campaigning for the truth for no apparent reason?

Miller appears to be more of a stand-in for Greengrass’ message that the invasion itself was unnecessary. The further Miller delves into his rogue investigation, the further the movie falls into preachy messages regarding the Bush administration and its principal players.  Supporting characters resemble real-life officials and reporters, whom Greengrass defines as the actual villains. Reporter Lawrie Dayne, in a wasted performance by Amy Ryan, is rumored to be based on New York Times journalist Judith Miller, whose articles helped convince many of the existence of WMDs.  The sinister Clark Poundstone, played by the normally comedic Greg Kinnear, is modeled after former Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer.  These characters remain one-sided villains; their sole role is to mutter evil statements that directly contrast with Miller’s heroics. Poundstone’s only explanation for the crisis is that “democracy is messy.” It’s no wonder that we do end up rooting for Miller as the rest of his compatriots are depicted as wicked crooks.

Unlike “The Hurt Locker,” which showed both the chaos of war and the quiet, complicated lives of the soldiers, “The Green Zone” seems too busy exposing the dirty deeds of the Bush to provide a fully formed story.  The problem is most of America already agrees the reasoning for this war was flawed and top officials did lie and cheat their way into a complicated mess. The film’s message seems a tad dated.

“The reasons we go to war always matter,” Miller stoically declares to his superior. But the reasons we make movies matter too. And with his latest feature, Greengrass seems to have ignored some of the central facets of filmmaking, like character and plot development, to instead focus on a polarizing political message that is seven years too late.

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