14 April 2010 | jamesgill-1
A thriller that doesn't forget its political foundations
The new offering from Paul Greengrass is an intriguing progression from his previous films. Marrying the political engagement of films such as 'Bloody Sunday' with the blockbuster attraction of the Bourne films, 'Green Zone' was always going to promise attractive viewing, and it doesn't disappoint.
Matt Damon's character, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, is in charge of an American Armed Forces unit in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction during the early stages of the Iraq conflict. When their search proves fruitless, Miller begins to question the supposedly 'solid' intelligence that gave the locations of these WMD sites. The plot follows Miller's demand for answers from an unstable command desperate to hide them, revealing a political division at the heart of the U.S administration.
Yes, this is fiction, but Greengrass has become adept at tapping into our taste for conspiracy, contextualising his stories within a political reality that has become all too familiar to us since the invasion began in 2003. It's thrilling stuff, and I think that is the key word to remember when watching this film. Thriller. Yes, there is political content here, and yes, it does hold up to some scrutiny. For example, the opening of the movie portrays the sense of confusion of conflicting command structures particularly well, really getting into the disorientation and intrigue of a military operation that isn't going as planned. The role of journalist Laurie Dayne (played by Amy Ryan) also provides a well-executed analysis of how the media's coverage of the facts can be impaired by the manoeuvrings of political and military authority.
There are moments when this political engagement appears heavy-handed, but that is because the director's priority is always, first and foremost, entertainment. For example, there is nothing subtle about Damon's character walking into a scene of Americans drinking and lounging by the pool of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. Furthermore, the film suffers from conventional Hollywood stereotypes when it tries to depict the 'downtrodden-yet-hopeful' Iraqi citizen, who works with Miller in order to expose the truth about his country. Khalid Abdalla (best known for his lead role in 'The Kite Runner') does his best with the material available, but the role lacks depth and complexity, and for me is one of the few disappointments of the film.
But, as I said, this a work of fiction, and there are plenty of moments where our taste for excitement and spectacle is satisfied. Greengrass' now familiar 'handycam' filming style is appropriate to the sense that we are never sure as an audience where the threat is going to come from. It provides a kick of adrenaline to the action sequences, making us feel the sand in our mouths as we are thrown to the floor, and adds docudrama realism to the events on screen. Some of the reviews I have seen complained about this style of cinematography, but I think Greengrass has managed to make the technique contribute to the content of his film, rather than becoming overly intrusive or threatening our cinematic experience.
There is a delicious feeling of melodrama to the piece as a whole – the moustached Jason Isaacs as the sinister Special Forces operative provides a gripping counterbalance to the inquiring Matt Damon. Brendan Gleeson is superb as the CIA agent that won't roll over and accept the demands of the military and political commanders. Indeed, the cast as a whole appears to work well together in a film that successfully marries the need for political engagement with the desire for cinematic spectacle. It is a film designed for box office appeal, and yet despite this it doesn't compromise on the political foundations on which it is based. Its climax is a fine reward for the audience's suspense – in short, a well-worked film that cuts to the heart of our craving for conspiracy and revelation.
James Gill (Twitter @jg8608)