Matt Damon stars in Green Zone as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who is increasingly frustrated by the pointless missions he’s sent on, finding empty warehouses where intel has pinpointed weapons of mass destruction. Leading the government conspiracy is Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), with CIA chief Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) equally suspicious of what’s going on. Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) also shows up at random points, mostly as a device to propel the storyline.
While Green Zone was exciting and visually impressive, Damon was completely flat and unbelievable, one of the most actionless action roles we’ve seen on screen in a while. Worse, the sinister government plot to manufacture weapons of mass destruction as justification for the Iraqi invasion was daft and shallow, played out more like a comic book action story than a serious wartime thriller.
The film did draw me in and it wasn’t until the last 30 minutes or so that it became increasingly unbelievable, with twists and scenes that made me literally laugh out loud at their absurdity. By the end of the film, it’s clear that Green Zone is a wish-fulfillment fantasy about how we wish a lone agent of truth would ferret out what’s really happening outside the green “safe” zone in Iraq.
The most striking contrast between the green zone and the rest of the nation occurred early in the film: a water riot in the unsecured part of Baghdad versus Miller walking into a poolside party where women are in bikinis and it’s like spring break.
The cinematography is terrific, and the exterior sets, particularly Saddam International Airport, are terrific, with great verisimilitude, but cinematographer Barry Ackroyd is a bit too zealous with his shaky camera shots during just about every single chase scene, and after a while it’s almost impossible to figure out what’s actually going on. As it did in Cloverfield, the unsteady cam wears thin and devolves into an annoying gimmick way before Green Zone ends.
The battle scenes are well done, and there is a sense of believability about fully armed soldiers stalking a public square while the locals are busy looting and ignoring any imminent threat to their lives. It’s hard not to draw a comparison with the intense bomb diffusion scenes from the Academy Award-winning The Hurt Locker, though, where careful framing and good acting trump Green Zone’s shaky cam.
There are some powerful moments in the film, particularly early on. In one early scene, Brown swears at Poundstone, asking “do you have any idea what’s happening outside the green zone?” to which Poundstone shrugs and responds blandly that “democracy is messy.” In another scene Miller complains to Brown, “I thought we were all on the same side?” and Brown just stares at him. “Don’t be naive.”
In the end, though, Damon can’t make us believe in Miller and he comes across as a simpleton, a naive soldier who is fighting for a mythic goal of truth and justice, in Iraq to help the Iraqis, and when he goes increasingly rogue without consequences, the film just falls off a cliff, never to recover.
Green Zone tries hard, and there’s an engaging storyline that could have been the core of the film, but Damon’s uninspired performance and a script that became increasingly unbelievable dooms the film to recurring late night appearances on HBO.
Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember and sees at least 500 films a year. You can find his longer, more detailed reviews at www.DaveOnFilm.com or follow his movie updates on Twitter as @FilmBuzz.