Green Zone (Blu-ray Review)21 Jun, 2010 By: Mike Clark
Box Office $35.1 million
$29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for violence and language.
Stars Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson.
Even at its best, which is in the extended set-up, the third collaboration between Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass after two “Bourne” thrillers has more than a tinge of “too little, too late.” Though to hear naysayers lambaste it as anti-American on certain movie-centered chat-rooms, you’d think it was some kind of gratuitously provocative statement to note that faulty American intelligence was catastrophic during the early days of the Iraq invasion; that looters took over in Baghdad for a while in ways that surprised those who should have known better; and that the dissolution of the Iraqi Army led to internal chaos, to say nothing of chaos on the streets.
All of this is apparently chronicled in Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, which is cited in the credits as this film’s inspiration. I haven’t read it — yet — but I have read Thomas E. Ricks’ Fiasco, Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Factor and Frank Rich’s The Greatest Story Ever Sold, and this movie is not exactly going out on a limb with assertions early on before turning into an uncomfortable action melodrama (that is, tone that tries to balance braininess with contusions) in hour two.
Zone goes off the reservation around the same time Damon’s character does. The actor, who shares DVD commentary labors with Greengrass, plays Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller — a question asker who risks the lives of himself and his men invading a supposed WMD arsenal that turns out to be a long abandoned toilet factory. Chapped by this, he ruffles a few brass feathers complaining in a public forum about bad intel; takes a fairly instantaneous dislike of a transparently conniving (to us) State Department operative who’s pushing the WMD line (Greg Kinnear); and is fairly flabbergasted that a Wall Street Journal reporter (Amy Ryan, given nothing acting-wise to do) has never actually met the Iraqi general who’s the intel source. Ryan’s character is transparently based on the New York Times’ fallen-from-grace Judith Miller (I bet they loved this script switcheroo at the WSJ), and it’s weird when Ryan addresses Damon by his character name: Miller. Was this some kind of intentional in-joke? Dunno.
Also better cast than their roles are written (by Brian Helgeland) are Brendan Gleeson as a worn-out CIA operative who looks as if he sleeps in his clothes and Khalid Abdalla as a local named “Freddy” who hopes that by attaching himself to Damon, he has hooked up with the right side. Other than Ryan (who was so unforgettable in her Oscar-nominated Gone Baby Gone performance), the actors blend well with the material, but it’s really starting to look as if Greengrass cares more about self-consciously jittery action sequences than he does about his actors. Or to put it another way: Am I the only one who much prefers the star power and emotional resonance of Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity to the chilliness of the two “Bourne” sequels (on which Liman did serve as executive producer)? Stylistically, Greengrass is kind of a cold cookie with characters, which is why he was the perfect choice to film United 93 — still one of the greatest movies from the last decade and one whose story was so powerful just by itself that any director was duty-bound to eschew histrionic fussiness and flourishes.
With non-acting concerns, though, he’s nothing but fussy, and Zone’s second hour is directed as if it were another “Bourne” action pic (certainly, it was sold like one) as a prelude to some cringe-worthy speechifying near the end when Damon starts getting on his soapbox in ways that seem naïve (you tell, ’em, Matt). As grown-up entertainment, Zone isn’t bad — and it’s certainly a lot better as a political thriller than Ridley Scott’s miserable Body of Lies from 2008. But if you want to see the real deal, go back to Charles Ferguson’s Oscar-nominated documentary No End in Sight from 2007, which covers the same material as Zone. I don’t think any fictional film will ever beat it.