Green Zone Advances Liberal Narrative of Iraq War
The film, starring Matt Damon, takes a terribly complex situation and renders it in high contrast black and white.
March 12, 2010 - 12:00 am
The late Howard Zinn would be very proud of his protégé, Matt Damon.
The actor has long admired the lefty historian, a man whose anti-American impulses were so profound he could cast the United States’ participation in World War II and its aftermath in an unflattering light.
Damon’s latest film, Green Zone, rewrites history regarding the Iraq War in a way Zinn’s acolytes will cheer.
Never mind the facts. Green Zone keeps the “Bush lied, people died” narrative front and center while creating an alternative reality as warped as that of Inglourious Basterds.
But at least Quentin Tarantino fashioned his film so Jewish people could extract much deserved revenge against their Nazi captors — at least on film. Green Zone exist as liberal wish fulfillment writ large.
It also arrives at an inopportune moment considering the liberal magazine Newsweek’s recent cover story declaring victory in Iraq.
Green Zone is set at the start of the Iraq War, a chaotic time in which U.S.-led forces are swarming the Middle Eastern country following the collapse of its army.
Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon) is leading the charge on a site known to house WMD (weapons of mass destruction). A lone sniper protects the building, but Miller and co. eventually fight their way past him.
It’s a tough, taut scene, one director Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) could shoot in his sleep.
But they find nothing there, just an empty warehouse. It’s the third time a suspected WMD site has come up dry, and Miller wants answers. Now.
So do we. The moment reminds us of the frustration felt when each new news report told us those elusive weapons weren’t there. Even neoconservatives can relate, and feel echoes of a rising anger.
Miller finds a soul mate in CIA station chief Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), a man who can see Iraq, the WMD hunt, and everything else about the region with perfect hindsight. The character, like several in the film, speaks as if his dialogue were written yesterday, not in the context of events occurring in 2003.
Together, they uncover the real story regarding the administration’s lies about WMD to coax the country into war.
Why? We’re not told. And, much more importantly, the false narrative flies in the face of how many countries’ intelligence services also supported the WMD claim, as did the Clinton administration and numerous Democratic senators.
Along the way, U.S. operatives torture suspects, the UN’s hapless weapons inspectors are treated like the gold standard, and a vile Iraqi general becomes a noble warrior deserving of our pity.
Yet Green Zone plays out in a reasonably compelling fashion for roughly two-thirds of the film — assuming you can swallow so much bunk. Damon, his voice reduced to a husky growl, is credible as the honor-bound solider desperate to solve the WMD mystery. And Greengrass doesn’t waste a moment of screen time; his film is as lean as modern audiences demand.
The film’s settings truly impress, from Saddam’s former palaces to his airport and repository of war-minded statues. You’ll feel like you’ve been deposited in a war zone, one that miraculously recreates an Iraq in full crisis mode.
Even if one buys the Green Zone logic, the film still stands as Greengrass’ weakest film to date. The director’s obsession with shaky camera work is at its zenith here, almost to the point of parody. There’s no shot Greengrass thinks wouldn’t be better sans tripod, and the cumulative effect is dizzying and unnecessary.
The Iraqi characters are given virtually no depth or dimensions, especially a valuable informant who exists to prop up the plot and deliver an occasional lecture about American hubris.
The talented Amy Ryan plays a Wall Street Journal scribe likely based on the real reporter who, according to the film, glibly transcribed the administration’s talking points on WMD. It’s a thankless role far beneath her, and it adds nothing to the film save another talking point about the media’s obeisance in the war’s run-up.
Worst of all, Green Zone takes a terribly complex situation and renders it in high contrast black and white. The dawn of the insurgency, the truth surrounding WMD, the reasons for going to war — each is delivered in sound bites that betray the real issues.
At one point Miller taps out his findings on the computer, as if the director wasn’t sure we got the message already.
It’s like The Iraq War for Dummies written by Oliver Stone.
In fact, much of Green Zone plays out like a Stone fantasy, although the 2010 version of Stone can’t match the intensity Greengrass can muster.
Damon‘s strait-laced performance holds the film together until the final 20 minutes when the mishmash of conspiracies and plot absurdities reaches the melting point. The final street battle is both improbable on a dozen levels and so visually confusing it makes Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen look lucid in comparison.
Green Zone trumps other recent Iraq War dramas in both audacity and scope. It won‘t be remembered as anything but preaching to a choir that likely won‘t buy enough tickets to support it.