With Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan. Rated R for violence and language. 115 minutes.
The Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” is a decent film worth seeing, but it got all that buzz because it was the only film to come out of the Iraq war with a non-controversial premise: our brave men and women in uniform pay a high price for the terrific burden they’re bearing. While that’s true, and while those who serve in our armed services are owed our respect and gratitude, it also begs the question. Why DID we go to war in Iraq in the first place?
GREEN ZONE asks that very inconvenient question and the result is that the general public probably won’t go. WMDs? That’s SO 2003. Who cares that the very reason we were led into war – as the cost of countless lives and countless billions of dollars – was a lie. Besides, according to some pundits, didn’t this week’s election there prove that George Bush was right, and that his gift of “democracy” to Iraq was the greatest achievement of his presidency?
A film review is probably not the place to carry out this debate, but “Green Zone” makes it inevitable. Miller (Matt Damon) is the leader of a group of soldiers tracking down those elusive weapons of mass destruction. The “very good intelligence” he’s given as to their locations leads to endless military confrontations, but doesn’t produce any weapons. As everyone except viewers of FOX News know, the claims by the administration were built on lies and unchecked rumors.
Miller finds himself a pawn in a tug of war between an old CIA hand (Brendan Gleeson), who is trying to deal with the actual facts on the ground, and Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), the chief American official in Baghdad, who is only interested in information that fits the administration’s pre-conceived notions. There’s also a reporter (Amy Ryan) who has been dutifully repeating the official line in her news reports thinking she’s getting the inside track. The rival American factions are after the one Iraqi who could reveal the truth. The CIA sends Miller to bring him in, while Poundstone wants him taken out… permanently.
The last half-hour is as suspenseful as it is dizzying as director Paul Greengrass uses his cinema vérité camerawork to put us in the midst of the action. While the movie takes liberties with the drama, the basic facts are not in dispute: the WMDs our reason for starting the invasion in the first place weren’t there and the administration knew, or should have known, that. The film is based on the non-fiction book “Imperial Life In The Emerald City” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran for those who prefer the facts without the shaky camerawork.
“Green Zone” comes at a time when those who supported the war are trotting out their “mission accomplished” banners again, and those who opposed it seem to have gone on to other issues. This is a movie that offers an important look back at the war’s start. That makes it important, no matter how much people on both sides of the debate might prefer to talk about something else.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.