Friday, March 19, 2010

Green Zone

Green Zone (Paul Greengrass, 2010) (Park Lane) The buzz preceding Matt Damon's latest outing established the film as a continuation of the Bourne series set amid the political intrigue and heavy artillery combat of Iraq as Operation Desert Shield approaches George Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished." Essentially an intelligent action movie that addresses relevant political and social issues alongside thrills and chills. This is a laudable goal, and one that Katherine Bigelow's The Hurt Locker made seem achievable, but is apparently much more difficult than one might think.

The film follows Miller (Matt Damon), a US Army officer leading a team charged with securing Saddam Hussein's purported store of WMDs in the days immediately following the advent of the second Iraq war. The opening of the film, a collage of news footage interspersed with scenes of Miller's team infiltrating a reported WMD site, evoked memories of where I was and what I was thinking as the second Iraq war began - establishing a sense of immediacy and relevance.

The purported WMD site, alas, is empty - and apparently is not the first empty site that Miller and his men have risked their lives to secure on the strength of woefully inadequate intelligence. Returning to base and able to find no answers regarding the source of the faulty intelligence, Miller has no choice but to go rogue, delving into dark corners of political intrigue to learn the dirty secret behind America's reasons for going to war. It is Matt Damon against a global intelligence conspiracy - Bourne 4.0 indeed!

The problem is that, much like Body of Lies before it, Green Zone is not what it claims to be/tries to be/pretends to be. The political intrigue - what shady deals were worked out behind closed doors and in torture rooms to ensure US involvement in Iraq - is paper thin and in no way illuminating. The action sequences - shot in the same annoyingly jerky Bourne style that made The Quantum of Solace so difficult to watch - are distracting and disjointed. And Matt Damon - the darling of the intellectual action film scene - is flat, lifeless, and very out of place shlepping an M16 in uniform and shouting orders (huwah!).

Green Zone is a mess! And, sadly, Matt Damon, whom I have always considered a sign of a film worth paying attention to, proves yet again how limited he is as an actor. Like many of the biggest stars in Hollywood, Damon essentially plays himself in every role - he has never hit one out of the park by playing brilliantly against type a la Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love or Reign Over Me (both HIGHLY recommended). I found The Informant flat and lifeless despite a brilliant back story, and Green Zone essentially boring despite impressive explosions and - again - a compelling back story.

The Iraq wars have not fared well in the theater to date, producing one brilliant film, Bigelow's Hurt Locker, and a bevy of interesting and entertaining films that never really rise to the challenge of delving into what many claim to be the Vietnam of our age: an ill-conceived, mismanaged military folly in a place that the US little understands and has even less right to interfere. I understand that documentary film has done a somewhat better job of tackling the subject, but have not sampled any of these films.

Among the interesting and entertaining films that I can recommend are some that are very worth spending a few hours with. A few that come to mind are: Three Kings, Jarhead, the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, and Brothers, which, against all expectations, succeeded in engaging me and bringing tears to my eyes (by the end it even had me impressed by Tobey Maguire, something I am loathe to admit!).

Green Zone, on the other hand, is a solid, non-qualified PASS.

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