Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass take on the Bush-Cheney administration in their WMD-free Iraq action-thriller Green Zone. Both tantalizing in its production and overt in its politics, the film takes the aesthetic of the Bourne series (snap-zooms, handheld spasms) and turns it into an unrelenting anti-Iraq war tirade. As a message-film, it's cumbersome and heavy-handed - as a thriller, it's tenacious and enthralling.
In the early moments we see Chief Roy Miller (Matt Damon) - before he's encumbered by deceitful D.C. higher-uppers - prowling through the streets of post-invasion Baghdad with his nose in the sand, searching for those elusive Weapons of Mass Destruction. In these comparatively unpronounced scenes, Green Zone actually achieves a sense of engaging and unexhausted condemnation otherwise absent in the film's last hour or so of Hajji-hunting and governmental closeting.
What Damon's Roy Miller (a Bourne-again truth-seeker) uncovers is a flaw in the Intel which continually sends he and his men into hostile territory looking around for WMD's that don't exist. More than a little perturbed, Miller seeks guidance from a CIA agent (Brendan Gleeson) who has been on to the suspiciousness of Washington (given a face by Greg Kinnear) for a while now.
Armed with an unyielding disposition and a fearless resolve, Miller attempts to single-handedly blow-the-lid on the entire Middle-East campaign (with some help from a well-meaning journalist played by Amy Ryan), therefore exposing the war as a meaningless charade. "We're here to do our job, the reasons don't matter," a fellow officer pleads. "They do to me," he responds.
And thus is the way of Brian Helgeland's oppressive script, which takes great liberties with Rajiv Chandrasekaran's source novel, shaping the model and bending the details into a familiar genre entry of a rogue warrior attempting to out-duel the conniving and fraudulent government slimes. And why not? After all, this is what director Paul Greengrass and Damon usually do best.
With his hardened physique and facial features, Matt Damon has turned into a dependable morally-grounded action hero and man-on-the-move. If nothing else, Green Zone proves that it's still worth it to pay to see him on the big screen. He's magnetic, endearing and forceful, and it's a joy to watch him here, regardless of the film's issues.
And the problem here simply lies in the telling, which bludgeons with so many broad, criminally obvious anti-Bush slants ("You don't have the right to decide what goes on here," a benevolent Iraqi citizen implores) that the overall impact of the film becomes reduced to a desperate, dated conviction - albeit a fundamentally sound one.
Comparison's to Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker are inevitable, and here Greengrass, clearly both aided and burdened by his big-budget filmmaking, just further enhances the strengths of the 2009 Oscar winner. Where The Hurt Locker avoids blatant political pitfalls and thrives on intimacy, Green Zone flounders in its domineering explicitness - instead of coaxing or gently affecting its audience, it constantly talks down to them. [B-]