Jason Isaacs and Matt Damon in Paul Greengrass's GREEN ZONE
Paul Greengrass's culmination of his docu-drama and action-thriller work, GREEN ZONE achieves a synthesis of style and adrenaline fueled action that is truly breathtaking. Working again with star Matt Damon, he tells the story of Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, a soldier looking for WMD in the "Mission Accomplished" days of the Iraq war. The film operates on the same parameters as one of Greengrass's BOURNE films, but set in reality, with one man being played on both sides while trying to uncover the truth. Unlike either of those films, however, Miller is not a one man badass, frequently relying on his unit to help him meet his objectives and track down the source of faulty intelligence that keeps leading his own men to sites that contain no signs of ever having housed WMD.
Miller discusses his obsession with discovering the truth with one of his unit.
The film is loosely based on the book IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY - really an inspiration for the setting of the story more than anything - which may be both its strength and its weakness. By focusing on a fictionalized single-perspective scenario, the audience is thoroughly engaged with the film through their cypher, and is genuinely interested in seeing him succeed - which, in this case, woudl involve uncovering irrefutable evidence that the Bush administration lied to everyone to go to war with Iraq, fabricating intelligence as they saw fit. However, this small portrait of the quagmire created by the war is problematic because the scope of the issue is much broader and offensive than indicated in the film, which might work beautifully as an action film, but ultimately fails as a document of the lies and fabrications by the U.S. government on the American people to this very day. I do realize, however, that this was not the intent of the filmmakers, and it is only my opinion, and that film I saw was urgent, factually grounded and absolutely stunning in its intelligent construction of action, particularly in a style of camerawork and editing often criticized for its incomprehensibility.
Even in low light situations, the action in GREEN ZONE remains logical from shot to shot.
What makes GREEN ZONE work stylistically, unlike some of the sequences in the BOURNE movies, is the progressive action, which flows logically from shot to shot and never loses the viewer, despite the kinetic fights and shootouts. The use of the "shaky cam" and fast cuts actually serves to ramp up the adrenaline aesthetically, and is used in fair moderation compared to the constant barrage of movement in the BOURNE franchise, which are basically chase sequences extended through the entire run-time of the film. The only other filmmaker who has utilized this snatch-and-grab style so well is Kathryn Bigelow with recent award season darling THE HURT LOCKER, though to evoke a different adrenaline response in the audience.
The final twenty minutes of GREEN ZONE contain one of the most intricately shot and edited multi-tier chases I've ever seen, following three sets of characters on foot and in the sky through the destroyed rubble of downtown Baghdad. Despite the complexities of establishing location in such an extended sequence, and despite the ultra-dark nighttime cinematography, there is never a sense of displacement or a loss of geography. It's a remarkable feat of action filmmaking, and deserves a place alongside anything currently in any list of memorable chases.
Brendan Gleeson plays a CIA agent who is trying to stabilize the country and correct the administration's mistakes.
Acting-wise, the supporting cast delivers a lot of top-notch work, including one hell of a performance from Greg Kinnear as Poundstone, the administration's crooked intel man in Iraq, both intimidating and terrified of exposure at the same time. Also of note are Brendan Gleeson and Amy Ryan (and the woefully overlooked Jason Isaacs), who continue their string of reliably dynamic side roles. Ryan in particular does a lot with the character of Lawrie Dayne, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who has been duped by the administration. Also, I found it fascinating how many Arab voices and faces are in the film. In a pivotal role as Freddy, an informer concerned for his country's future who accompanies Miller on his mission as translator, Khalid Abdalla gives an emotionally charged and riveting performance, providing a much needed Arab perspective to the growing cinematic discourse on the Iraq war.
GREEN ZONE is the crowning achievement of Greengrass's directorial interests thus far, and is his most emotionally and intellectually satisfying film to date. I'm looking forward to seeing where he goes from here. He has expressed disinterest in revisiting the Jason Bourne character, and recently discussed in Film Comment how the ideas behind both of his entries in that series, as well as for UNITED 93 and GREEN ZONE were all hatched around the same time. As he continues onward, I'm sure I'll be pleased to see him branch out into new story terrain, while continuing to refine his aesthetic choices.