By Cary Darling
The trailers make it seem as if “Green Zone” is the fourth installment in the Bourne franchise.
There’s director Paul Greengrass, who helmed “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” And mostly there’s “Bourne” star Matt Damon. Going rogue. With a big gun. In a foreign country. Killin’ dudes. Do the math.
But, sadly, “Green Zone” adds up to something less than its many constantly moving parts. What must have struck Greengrass as a great idea — blending the high-octane action histrionics of “Bourne” with the taut, politically charged suspense of some of his other films like “United 93” and “Bloody Sunday” — turns out to be a sometimes arresting but often heavy-handed, dumbed-down merging of the two approaches as well as reality itself.
Very loosely based on actual events that were covered in Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s award-winning nonfiction book, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” which details the American military’s actions in Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of 2003, “Green Zone” focuses on fictional soldier Roy Miller (Damon), who’s in charge of a unit assigned to rooting out weapons of mass destruction in Baghdad.
When each of the locales turns out to be a wild-goose chase, Miller starts to suspect the intelligence being served up to him by his superiors is tainted. His suspicions are fueled by a disgruntled CIA agent, Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), who’s at odds with a duplicitous American functionary, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), charged with helping usher democracy into Iraq and who firmly maintains the weapons are a reality.
Along the way, Miller has a run-in with Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), who has been writing stories saying that the weapons definitely exist in the places where Miller should have found them.
So, Damon puts together his own Baghdad wrecking crew, on the hunt for the Iraqi bad guys, like Al Rawi (Igal Naor), who would know where the weapons are stashed if they exist. But, if they don’t exist, he wants to unearth who at the top is lying about them and why.
Poundstone is obviously based on someone like Paul Bremer (the real-life diplomat initially in charge of overseeing the reconstruction of Iraq) and Dayne is akin to Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who was pilloried for her reporting on weapons of mass destruction.
But these elements of the real world don’t make “Green Zone” feel any more authentic than most other generic action movies where everyone is a one-dimensional stereotype. And all of Greengrass’ trademarked shaky-cam, wild-style, documentary-like visual sense — which, when it works, can be amazingly effective — doesn’t change that either. (Notably, “Green Zone’s” cinematographer is Barry Ackroyd, who helped bring similar wartime verisimilitude to “The Hurt Locker.”)
The only character with any hint of depth is Freddy (wonderfully played by Khalid Abdalla), a beleaguered Iraqi citizen who volunteers to help Roy Miller but ends up in an emotional war zone as he sees his country being ripped apart from all sides. By the end, when the political points of the script (written by Brian Helgeland, “L.A. Confidential,” “Mystic River”) start flying like mortar fire, it all comes across like lecturing.
That’s not to say there can’t be a good, thought-provoking action movie made about the difference between what the world was told by the American government in those initial days of the Iraq War and the reality on the battle-scarred ground. It’s just that “Green Zone” is not it.
Go and do
RATED: R (violence, strong language)
RATING: 2 out of 5 stars
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes