“Oh, you’re going to see The Bourne Iraq-ity?” That was the response I fielded, via Facebook, when I told all and sundry that The Green Zone was on my mind. The anti-Iraq War war flick might also be on Paul Bremer and Judith Miller’s minds when they get wind of the ripped-from-the-headlines storyline: shock and awe — the US has embarked on war in Iraq, yet the search for WMDs already seems futile. It turns out that the military and media have been taken for a ride with faulty intelligence, generated by a US government more intent on regime change than fact-finding.
Sound familiar? That’s because The Green Zone gets another infusion of been-there-done-that déjà vu in the hands of lead Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, famed for their Bournecollabos. So, what’s to stop this from seeming like a rehash variant of that familiar franchise?
Very little, considering the borderline super-heroics of Damon’s Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller. Writer Brian Helgeland (working with Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s 2006 book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City) clearly needs to hang this diffuse yet obviously outrageous narrative on a likable protagonist, and he finds it in Miller, an upstanding military man who’s tired of risking the lives of the soldiers under his command, who’s guided by lousy intel from a mysterious source dug up by Washington administrator Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) and written about by Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan). When Miller starts griping in semi-public, he attracts the attention of CIA man Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), who comes to his aid when a onetime Iraqi soldier (Khalid Abdalla) gives him some hot information about his sighting of an important Bathist general (Yigal Naor).
Jiggly handheld combat photography, low-light night scenes, and doc-like camerawork impart the impression that you’re very much there, in the thick of combat, or at least embedded deeply among a few battling branches of government. Yet instead of the very obvious injustice going down, why should we care about any of these characters, let alone the illicit doings of a morally compromised administration? You can practically feel a Bush-fatigued America — too weary and too disgusted to impeach a president when the real-life WMDs never materialized — turning away from this movie in droves if they knew what they were really in for: a somewhat more fabulist version of recent history.
Hence that handy Bourne veneer The Green Zone slips on, somewhat unconvincingly, though with some commercial success despite the Iraq War box-office jinx that has held when it comes to all of Hollywood’s efforts to encapsulate (or cash in on) the very real drama. While no Hurt Locker, The Green Zone does serve as yet another intriguing entry on Damon’s resume, showing the actor to be making one meaty career out of playing off his baby-faced all-American looks: Miller just happens to be the heroic, straight-faced inverse of Damon’s hilariously disingenuous whistleblower Mark Whitacre in The Informant! a fact that adds a dollop of interest to an otherwise too-roughly-sketched character.