Friday, March 12, 2010

Get in the Zone: GREEN ZONE - Reviewed!


- I think Green Zone is one of those movies that is doomed to be underrated, for any number of reasons. It's Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, but it's not a new Bourne movie. It's both an action/war movie and a political thriller. It doesn't shy away from recent politics - namely, the Iraq War and the controversy over the existence or lack thereof of WMD's. Personally, I thought Green Zone was great, for all of the above reasons and more. It's an exciting, visceral movie with some absolutely stunning action set pieces. It's intense, and it doesn't shy away from the issues. It makes its points effectively and dramatically. And it features a great cast of uber-talented actors that really gel, making for a great ensemble. Bottom line: Green Zone is a damn good film - one of the better movies of 2010 to date.

Green Zone is a slice of recent history. It follows the US effort to gain control of a very unstable Iraq in the days and weeks following the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. Things have stabilized enough that journalists, businessmen, etc. are living rather comfortably in the US-controlled "green zone." But, on the ground, there is an increasingly dangerous and chaotic war effort still very much in effect. The Pentagon is pressuring the army to capture or kill top insurgency leaders, and, most importantly, to find evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But with each new search mission, the military is coming up empty. Some are beginning to question the legitimacy of the intel. Chief among the skeptics is Roy Miller, played by Matt Damon. Miller begins to look for answers, and he finds a small group willing to help him as a means to expose the truth about falsified intelligence. And that's when things really heat up - because in addition to all the other dangers of being a soldier in a chaotic, war-torn Iraq, Miller must now deal with people from the military and from the US government who don't want him getting close to the truth.

It's an intriguing story, to be sure. And the script by Brian Helgeland is strong - with enough deep characterization and intense action that the politics don't feel overwhelming. That said, I can see where some might find the script to be heavy-handed. And yeah, maybe the term "WMD" is thrown around a bit too much. But - this is one of the most controversial and important American issues of the last decade. I found it fascinating to see a film that really raised questions, that made you think. And again, the political drama is there in the context of a badass action movie. This is certainly not just a bunch of talking heads.

Speaking of which, one of the first things you'll notice about Green Zone is that it features director Paul Greengrass' trademark shaky-cam and "you-are-there" aesthetic. I know this style has some detractors, and I'll admit, it can be annoying and distracting when lesser talents utilize it. But Greengrass is no ordinary talent - he's a master at immersing the viewer in chaos. The editing is just right, and the overall effect is that you feel like you're right there with Matt Damon's character as he navigates through some absolutely riveting chase sequences. There is definitely a feeling of viewer involvement that is on par with playing a great action videogame. Greengrass knows how to ensure that his action scenes have maximum impact.

Green Zone also benefits from a pretty great cast. Personally, I think this is Matt Damon's best role in a while. No, this isn't as deep or iconic a character as Jeremy Renner's in The Hurt Locker - but this isn't the same type of movie, at all. That was an action film / character study, this is an action movie / political thriller. But Damon really helps carry the movie here. He isn't Jason Bourne - he's much more a regular guy. A good soldier but also curious and questioning. His life and his men's lives are seemingly being risked for the sake of political theater, and he wants to know why. The supporting cast is stellar. Brendon Gleeson (In Bruges) is always great, and here is no exception. Okay, his American accent is a bit dicey, but the guy is such a kickass actor that it's hard to care. He's a scene stealer as an intelligence official who's been a longtime presence in Iraq, and who has strong reservations about the Bush administration's wartime policy. Meanwhile, Greg Kinnear is suitably smarmy as a neocon Pentagon official intent on carrying out administration policy, even if the intelligence is questionable. Amy Ryan is also a solid presence as a journalist investigating these same anomalies in the WMD intel. All three have some memorable scenes with Damon. Also in the mix is a great performance from Khalid Abdalla as Freddie, an Iraqi local who helps out Miller but who is himself a complex and emotionally-conflicted individual. Freddie is an interesting look at the turmoil that many Iraqis have surely faced during the war. Again, a really great turn from Abdalla.

I don't think Green Zone is political in the sense that its lecturing. It's a movie that does ask legitimate questions though. Even if we went to war under false pretenses, was it ultimately for the betterment of the Iraqi people? Do we always need a reason to justify international actions that ultimately help serve American interests? Or does the truth always matter? And if our actions were based on lies, then at what point do you stop worrying about the truth, about the past, and just focus on the here and now? Do you ever? I think these are important things to think about, and even if you are 100% convinced that we went to war for vaild reasons, it's still an interesting hypothetical - if, *if* we didn't, then what does that mean, what precedent does that set?

Most of all, Green Zone is an exciting, action-packed thriller that mixes intrigue and explosive intensity with some real, meaty food for thought. Another great film from Greengrass. I'd definitely recommend it.

My Grade: A-

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