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Correction to This Article
This review of "Green Zone" misspelled the last name of an Iraq war veteran who was an adviser for the movie and appeared in one scene and who has criticized the depiction of a rogue soldier in "The Hurt Locker." His name is Paul Rieckhoff, not Rieckoff.
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Movie reviews: Ann Hornaday on 'Green Zone' and 'A Prophet'

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By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2010

Director Paul Greengrass tries to thread the needle in "Green Zone," his bombastic adaptation of Washington Post reporter and editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran's 2006 book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," one of the most brilliant disquisitions on imperial folly to emerge from the Iraq conflict.

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The term "adaptation," in this case, is used in its most latitudinal sense. Greengrass has essentially thrown out the book and delivered the kind of twitchy, restless action thriller for which he has become known with "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum."

What he has retained are the darkly surreal atmospherics of Chandrasekaran's account of the disconnect between the insular world of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which took up residence in the district from which the film takes its name, and the chaotic world outside its gates. The near-constant blasts, whirs, bangs and thumps that pulse through "Green Zone" are thus underscored by an ostinato of outrage at American hubris, political cynicism and the complicity of the credulous media.

The hat trick, though, isn't in Greengrass's melding of action and polemic; he has made works of political seriousness before, most notably in the stunning 2002 drama "Bloody Sunday," about a 1972 Irish civil rights protest. (His 2006 film "United 93" wasn't political as much as brilliantly apolitical.) Instead it lies in the filmmaker's audacious aim to critique a war he considers unjustified, while imbuing it with some degree of honor.

Greengrass cast his "Bourne" star, Matt Damon, as Roy Miller, a U.S. Army chief warrant officer whose mission is to find the weapons of mass destruction on which the 2003 invasion was predicated. As "Green Zone" opens, Miller has embarked on an embattled search -- his third -- to find a cache of WMDs, only to come up empty-handed, again.

When he begins to question the intelligence upon which his missions are based, he ultimately runs afoul of higher-ups in the military and the CPA itself, where he's stonewalled by a Pentagon official (Greg Kinnear) who initially might be mistaken for Iraq viceroy L. Paul Bremer but who bears a closer resemblance to Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith or any number of nameless functionaries in the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans.

Damon, whose wholesome, muscular good looks make him an ideal all-American hero-next-door, has done some outstanding character work in recent months (to behold him in "The Informant!" is akin to watching Brad Pitt turn into Philip Seymour Hoffman). But in "Green Zone," he takes back the mantle of leading man with a vengeance, his character barking out hoarse orders to his adoring subordinates and fixing interlocutors with a fierce, sky-blue gaze before deciding whether to trust them (he always makes the right call).

Throughout "Green Zone," Miller's instincts prove to be unbelievably, boringly flawless, and as his inquiry into the mystery of the missing WMDs deepens, he can always be found on the side of right -- whether in confiding in a weathered CIA staffer (played with rumpled gravitas by Brendan Gleeson) or allying with a desperate Iraqi nicknamed Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), who serves as Miller's ad hoc translator and guide through Baghdad's tangled streets.

Movies based on the military often seem to be engaging in an escalating authenticity race, competing for who can capture the guns, uniforms and protocol most accurately. From the number of military members who advised and appear in "Green Zone," it appears as if Greengrass has done his homework, at least enough to stave off post-release trash talk. (Iraq veteran Paul Rieckoff, who recently led a PR charge against the Oscar-winning film "The Hurt Locker" for its depiction of a rogue soldier, presumably has no problem when Miller goes off the reservation to pursue his own mission; Rieckoff not only advised the production but also appears in an early scene.)

The truth of the details notwithstanding, by the time "Green Zone" reaches its climactic "Avatar"-scale firefight, it's no longer a serious wartime thriller or even bald polemic, but a speculative revisionist fantasy on a par with Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds." Instead of Hitler meeting his fiery end in a Paris movie theater, viewers are treated to the heroic figure of an unfailingly brave, upright, supremely uncomplicated soldier getting to the bottom of the war's most unresolved questions and political deceptions.

Of course, his motivations are utterly pure: All he cares about is the truth and, as he keeps repeating throughout the movie, "saving lives." The hugely seductive cardinal image of "Green Zone" is not so much Roy Miller but Jason Bourne -- here cured of amnesia and trying valiantly to save us from our own.

Wouldn't it be pretty to think so, as Hemingway might say. With his notoriously jangly camerawork and jagged, whiplash editing style, Greengrass has been credited with redefining the action thriller. But in "Green Zone," he has delivered a surprisingly unsurprising take on a story that, in the hands of a satirist such as Billy Wilder or Stanley Kubrick (or David O. Russell, for that matter), might have actually captured the bite and stinging insight of its source material.


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