Supercharged entertainment is nothing to sneer at, especially when it’s presented in a crisp, efficient manner. Green Zone motors along at a brisk pace, never losing sight of its narrative intentions. The action sequences are integrated effectively into the drama and are pitch-perfect demonstrations of how to stage a rousing cinematic war.
Therein lies the problem, however. In view of the considerable creative talent involved — director Paul Greengrass, credited screenwriter Bryan Helgeland, and star Matt Damon — much more is expected than a video game version of the Iraq War. We don’t really need Call of Duty: Black and White and Read All Over, do we?
The simplistic tone is, initially, much appreciated. Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, leading his men in the first wave of troops that reached Baghdad. He’s determined to find WMDs and save lives, but is frustrated and then angered when no WMDs turn up. He openly questions the source of the intelligence that’s been provided, and is repeatedly told to shut up, follow orders, and do his duty.
His loud dissatisfaction brings him to the attention of veteran CIA lead operative Brendan Gleason, government official Greg Kinnear, and unsettled Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Ryan. He chooses a side and pays the consequences, leading him down a path where “going rogue” is the only sane — and humane — thing to do.
Green Zone breaks out of the gate so quickly and builds such berserk momentum that it’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of the characters fighting to do what is right in their own eyes. But who, really, is right? The characters are quickly divided into piles of “right” and “wrong” before the viewer can make a rational evaluation. Couldn’t a few more complexities have been included?
The story is so rushed that it’s hard to keep track of how many days have passed, but surely a little more character development – who, exactly, are these people, and what are their motivations, beyond the surface? – might have made the intended sting sharper and more lasting.
It’s as though the filmmakers were afraid that audiences wouldn’t pay attention if something weren’t exploding every few minutes.
Whereas The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum felt like intelligent thrillers with clever plots and recognizable characters with understandable ambiguities, Green Zone is so unambiguous that it becomes insulting. It might as well be a modern Western, with heroic cowboys and evil injuns fighting across the plains, only these warriors are descriptions more than people: The Soldier, The Spy, The Government Official, The Reporter, The Iraqi Citizen, and The Iraqi Military Leader.
Dealing with complex issues in a star-driven, big-budget action picture is ambitious and absolutely welcome. No doubt everyone involved felt they had an important story to tell, but in their earnest desire to tell what they see as the truth, they do themselves no favors by brooking no shades of gray.