Friday, March 19, 2010

'Green Zone' delivers politically-minded action

Movies about the Iraq War haven't exactly been the path to box office gold. “Green Zone” is a big budget Iraq War film and the subject matter still remains a tough sell. Even “The Hurt Locker,” the recent Best Picture winner, only made
$15.7 million during its theatrical run, which in actuality is a modest success considering its small budget and limited release.

With a budget of $100 million, “Green Zone” has only made $16.8 million in its first week. At least the film is on its way to making its money back, but, as with previous films tackling the subject, “Green Zone” is more about making a statement than making a buck. Kudos to Universal for backing it.

This marks the third collaboration between Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass, the director of the last two films in the “Bourne” series. The marketing of the film would lead you to believe this is essentially Jason Bourne in Iraq, but that is really a misnomer. Greengrass' kinetic, visceral, raw style of action is still present, but while it was front and center in the “Bourne” films, it takes a back seat to politics in “Green Zone.”

Oh, there's plenty of action: foot chases, gun fights, explosions, etc., but there also questions raised about the very reasons of the war. Some will be quick to dismiss the film as a heavy-handed liberal propaganda piece, but the film deals with some well documented truths. It is how those truths are presented that may rub some people the wrong way.

Set in 2003, the film focuses on the search for weapons of mass destruction, the reason for the United States' military presence in Iraq. Damon stars as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who is seemingly the only soldier frustrated by the fact that every site they raid in search of WMDs turns up empty and with zero evidence of weapons ever being there.

Miller begins his own search for the truth to who is providing the dodgy intel and uncovers a web of lies, deceit and cover-up. During his personal mission, he find allies in CIA man Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) and journalist Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) and an enemy in Pentagon intelligence officer Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), who will do anything to protect the truth.

The screenplay by Brian Helgeland, based on the book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone," simplifies everything by making each character represent a larger group of people in reality.

Damon's Miller stands for anyone who questioned the search WMDs, but it is extremely unlikely one soldier did the things he does. Ryan's journalist represents all journalists who unquestioningly reported what they were given. Kinnear's Poundstone is basically a stand-in for the entire Bush administration. Streamlining this big issue down to a a few players makes it easier to present as a palatable action film.

The film doesn't dumb down, though. There are good and bad guys within the U.S. Army, and good and guys in Iraq. The film strives not to make the idea of hero and villain black and white. Miller is given a tip by an Iraqi named Freddy (Khalid Abdalla) who becomes an important part of the plot.

Freddy's frustration is that he is automatically assumed to be the enemy and constantly must prove his loyalty. He is a man who loves his country and just wants what's best for it. In many ways he is the most interesting character in the film and helps to put a very human face to the story.

The acting throughout is strong. The ever-versatile Damon has mastered this sort of stoic minimalism. He face is hardened into the expressionless mask of a soldier, but it isn't a hollow performance if only because Damon has developed such a powerful command of the screen that makes it easy to almost instantly identify with him.

“Green Zone” works as both an action film and as a film that questions the reasons behind the Iraq War. Could a film have been made that chronicled the shadiness involving WMDs in a more intricate and complex way? Yes, and there are documentaries that have those details, but by squeezing these ideas into an action film, the issues may find a wider audience. It isn't a perfect melding of pop entertainment with loftier ideals, but it is a worthy attempt at something more than just a mindless action film.

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