Director Paul Greengrass and ever-reliable leading man Matt Damon team for a third time in “Green Zone,” an action-heavy, revisionist political thriller that takes place in Baghdad shortly after the U.S. invasion into Iraq. And while detractors will be quick to make the comparison to the duo’s previous outings together (the two previous chapters of the Bourne trilogy), “Green Zone” manages to be more than “The Bourne Identity” in Iraq, despite never fully leaving its roots behind.
Cpt. Roy Miller (Damon) and his squad have been charged with finding the WMD stockpiles that U.S. intelligence indicated were in the area. Spoiler Alert: there aren’t any! After turning up empty handed a few times, Miller’s finally fed up and starts asking questions. And the answers he gets aren’t always satisfying.
There’s a lot said in “Green Zone” about the state of Iraq after the Coalition Forces’ invasion and in its own way, the film is a road movie at times, as Miller takes a tour through U.S. entitlement, corruption, bureaucracy and the politics of war.
There are scenes, particularly one that takes place at Saddam’s Presidential Palace that highlights all four of those issues directly. It’s the focus on the moral and political repercussions of the invasion that provides the biggest separation between Miller’s and Bourne’s quest for answers.
But when “Green Zone” isn’t indicting politicians, over-eager journalists and spoiled dignitaries, it’s falling into Greengrass’ familiar territory of shaky camera work, grainy night shots and pseudo-documentary you-are-there aesthetics that, while finely crafted and expertly executed, drag the movie into blockbuster action movie territory.
What’s more, the soundtrack, which is at best distracting, does nothing to compliment the drama onscreen, but instead reduces it to background chatter.
Damon delivers a natural performance that doesn’t draw attention to itself as he easily fills the role of a squad leader and executes precise military commands and actions as if he’s done them a thousand times before. And in a way he has.
He is joined by Amy Ryan, as a journalist trying to get to the truth and save her name at the same time. Ryan has long been a dependable dramatic actress and she manages to do a lot with a role that could have been boilerplate. The scenes she shares with Damon are among the movie’s best, but she suffers from a lack of screen time and material to do anything substantial.
Likewise, Greg Kinnear plays a political advisor who helps falsify the information that eventually leads to the invasion, but–in screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s biggest misstep–is given no motivation, conflict, or backstory whatsoever throughout the course of the movie. As a result, Kinnear’s character appears less like a misguided patriot or political playmaker and more like a Bond villain–someone who is evil for evil’s sake.
But that’s the movie’s problem all over: For every step it takes toward thoughtful drama, it takes a corresponding step in the direction of a standard action movie. There are other shortcomings, sure, but the biggest frustration stems from a high-caliber production that hovers close to its true potential, but never actually achieves it.