“Green Zone” starts with a bang. Or more rightly stated, a series of bangs. Set in Bagdad on the first night of the shock and awe campaign, the opening minutes are a harrowing portrait of what it must be like to be under massive fire. It’s a frenetic beginning, shot in a wild cinema verite style, which will leave many in the audience wishing someone would buy director Paul Greengrass a tripod.
Matt Damon, reuniting with Greengrass after two Jason Bourne thrillers, is Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller. He’s a good soldier who allows creeping doubt about the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction to force him to go rouge. Breaking ranks from the Pentagon he aligns himself with a CIA Middle East expert Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller to try and ferret out the complicated truth. At odds with Miller is Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), a freshly scrubbed Penatgon appointee who won’t let the soldier’s misgivings get in the way of his mission to bring democracy to Iraq.
Nobody shoots action like Greengrass. He breathed new life into the spy genre with the Bourne films, using handheld camera to put the viewer in the action. Shooting where most action directors fear to tread—in tight, claustrophobic spaces for example—he brings a breathless documentary feel to his films that has redefined how we watch action on screen. That’s mostly a good thing, but for all the excitement that his whiplash camera style creates it occasionally leaves me hungry for an image or two that doesn’t look as though the camera was attached to a yoyo. His gritty style works for the gritty material in “Green Zone” but despite the masterful editing I found Greengrass’s propulsive approach overshadowed the story.
The action scenes are tense, but when the action stops, (which, frankly, isn’t very often) even the dialogue scenes move with the velocity of a bullet shot from a gun. It’s pedal to metal all the way with little regard to the nuances of storytelling.
Inspired by—it takes too many liberties with the text to be called “based on”—Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” it is a straightforward story that dumbs down the story of Bush era Iraq policies to the level of a cut rate James Bond flick. The added political intrigue elevates things a tad but the addition of several characters right out of central casting makes one long for the days before every CIA operative character had a weary smile and a jaded heart.
Damon is comfortable mixing the game faced soldier with an earnest side and acquits himself well, particularly when in the actions scenes. By this time he and Greengrass must have a shorthand on set that allows them to blend character and action, and here it works.
The same can’t be said for Brendan Gleeson as CIA veteran Martin Brown. Gleeson, a fine actor, doesn’t have any action scenes, and seems to be an afterthought to the director who places such hoary old clichés as, “Don’t be so naive,” in his mouth. Ditto Amy Ryan as a Wall Street Journal writer. It seems if the characters aren’t shooting a gun or in constant motion than Greengrass doesn’t know exactly what to do with them.
There is no question that “Green Zone” is an adrenalized action film. Unfortunately it oversteps its reach when it tries to go highbrow with the political intrigue.