Green Zone (Paul Greengrass, 2010)


The trailer wasn’t promising. Comprised of car chases, exploding helicopters and multiple reminders that this was another joint project between Damon and Greengrass, it did nothing but fuel a worrying expectation: that Green Zone would be nothing more than a money-spinning continuation of the Bourne saga which we’ve all seen before. Thank God it wasn’t.

It’s thanks to Greengrass that I can say the following with conviction: I came out of Green Zone feeling rewarded for staying with him. Yes, there is plenty of action. But the action does not feel majestic in the same way the perfectly coordinated New York car chase in The Bourne Ultimatum did. This is manic, messy stuff, set on the streets of hell; and Green Zone really does capture the mayhem of those streets, in a way that makes it feel much more authentic than the desolation implied by The Hurt Locker.

All this is set to the backdrop of a complex, political plot, loosely bound by the findings of Imperial Life in the Emerald City, an excellent piece of investigative journalism that detailed the Iraqi reconstruction project undertaken by the Americans, and reminded us of what a shambles it was. There is an excellent scene that captures the book’s sentiment in the space of three short minutes: the camera swings across the Baghdad skyline from the streets of chaos to the government palaces. In the latter you find Washington bureaucrats, naively planning Iraq’s democratisation and totally oblivious to the looting and futile search for WMDs outside.

It is Paul Miller, played by Matt Damon, who leads this quest, which he becomes increasingly suspicious of when the intelligence proves unfruitful time and time again. At this point we get the predictable characters responding to Miller’s anger: ‘the reasons don’t matter.’ His job is to execute, not to question. And everyone seems to share this sentiment, except for one CIA official (played, excellently, by Brendan Gleeson), who Miller teams up with to try and uncover the truth.

The film follows this line of thought through an enthralling two hours. We meet Freddie, a civilian seemingly alert to the path his country was on under Saddam, yet equally suspicious of the American mob that he hopes will somehow save it. We see the Guantanamo-style conditions under which prisoners were kept. We meet even more of the naive US officials that convince themselves they’re ‘doing a good thing here.’

In short, we are treated to a rich insight into the Iraqi occupation, and are given a thorough reminder of the worrying fragility underlying the justifications for being there in the first place. Admittedly this is accompanied by a healthy dose of action, but the motives for its inclusion are legitimate. This is not Bourne. Miller says more in Green Zone than Bourne says in the entire trilogy. But the dialogue nevertheless retains a sense of efficiency, and this is undoubtedly intentional, for Green Zone is not a psychological analysis into soldiers, nor does it pretend to be. Its actors and their action scenes are a medium for a timely reminder: namely, that we were almost certainly misled. And Greengrass’s other films (cue United 93), are testament to his desire to say this.

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4 Responses to “Green Zone (Paul Greengrass, 2010)”

  1. Just seen the Hurt Locker – what’s your beef with that?

    • 2 jacobwilliamson

      no beef at all, it’s incredible! (though up in the air should have won its oscars).

      i just meant here that it only ever shows the evacuated streets and we never get to see how crazy iraq normally is, which is something of a false illusion… green zone gives us a better view in that sense (though obviously it’s nowhere near as good a film).

  2. 3 Sterling

    caught this 2 weeks ago on DVD. maybe this was meant to be seen on the big screen, but i thought it was a huge letdown. A very pedestrian script, with stock characters. Even the action wasn’t compelling. The whole thing just felt like a pointless exercise. lol

    • 4 jacobwilliamson

      you’re probably right, you know; it hasn’t lived long in the memory. the fact this was my first review and how i saw it in pretty majestic circumstances could easily have clouded my judgement somewhat… perhaps needs a revisit.

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