Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Green Zone

"Weapons of Myth Destruction"

The team that brought you the more popular of the "Bourne" movies (Paul Greengrass, stunt coordinator Dan Bradley and star Matt Damon) basically take the same "run-and-shoot" scenario into the Iraq War in "Green Zone"—a government operative goes rogue and takes on the higher-ups with something to hide, who are willing to kill him in order to silence him. And just as "The Bourne Ultimatum" felt like a re-tread of "The Bourne Supremacy, "Green Zone" has the same worn been-there, fragged-that quality, owing more to tracts like "Body of Lies" (which this one closely resembles, despite having an "original" screenplay by Brian Helgeland) and the earlier collaborations of this particular action troika. It's the Iraq War, but without the "shock-and-awe," unless the awe comes from a stifled yawn.

The same issues—the manufacture of intelligence to promote a "sellable" war scenario—are at play in both the Greengrass and Ridley Scott films. The main difference being that this one lands square in the middle of the early "dazed and confused" days of the Iraq War (having just passed its seventh Anniversary) with the first crews of Army inspectors coming up trumps in their search for the legendary Weapons of Mass-Destruction, the Holy Grail of this Crusade. Adapted freely—very freely—from the book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" (which reads like a book version of the documentary "No End in Sight"), the screenplay posits American efforts to steam-roll a provisional government into Iraq by propping up their own Iraq partisan (based on Ahmed Chalabi) who hadn't set foot in Iraq for thirty years and was of dubious integrity, and the double-blind of an Iraqi general (played by Yigal Naor), whose reports of destroyed WMD's are falsified by the White House, and the promised assurances of participation in any new government for cooperating are ignored in the process of "De-Ba'athification."* Helgeland took the strategic failings of the Coalition Provisional Authority and used them as background for the cut-and-paste screenplay, constructing an "Army rebel" scenario in which Damon's "Roy Miller" is disgruntled with how his squad is continually sent on bogus WMD searches, chasing wild geese rather than chemical weapons. It becomes clear to the acronym-spewing MOP'd op that something is SNAFU, as the sites they fight to raid appear free of ordinance of any kind...and haven't for a very long time. Miller's investigation with the help of a frustrated CIA agent (Brendan Gleeson) becomes an effort to keep the SNAFU's from becoming FUBAR before he goes Tango Unicorn. Besides the angry and destabilized citizenry, they also have to fight a CPA op hard-wired to the White House (represented reprehensibly by Greg Kinnear) and the Special Forces commander who doesn't ask and doesn't tell, but merely re-loads (the terrific Jason Isaacs, nearly unrecognizable, looking like Bono in fatigues). You can't swing an HD camera (in simulated field-documentary fashion) without coming into conflict with somebody. **

It's one of those trope-heavy screenplays heavy on the "table-turning" dialogue ironically bantered back-and-forth during different stages of the screenplay—the big ones (delivered with the required dripping sarcasm) are "don't be naive," and "you didn't ask to confirm?" Ho-ho! Gotcha. You are so "occupied." These are the small PR victories lost in the cluster of the Iraq War.

It's not that "Green Zone" is bad. It is quite competent. But it is tired, and tired at its reckless pace feels silly and unnecessary...and a waste of time. Still, far more people will see "Green Zone" than "
No End in Sight," so if the message has to be "Damonized" at least it's doing some good, though in 20/20 hindsight.

Now...about the next one...

"Green Zone" is a Rental.

* Although the process is a matter of public record as is the Coalition Provisional Authority's dissolving of the Iraqi Army, the "playing" of the general is more akin to President Bush's tactics in dealing with Democratic senators while he was governor of Texas—he'd make promises to get a crucial vote and renege on those promises.

** Like the "Bourne" films and Greengrass' "United 93," the film doesn't have a still shot in it, or a held shot of more than four seconds, making Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" look serene by comparison, but it's not as bad as second-unit director Dan Bradley's work on "Quantum of Solace," which looked like it was filmed from the POV of a Mixmaster set to "discombobulate." The guy's who's turned this sort of stuff into a science is J.J. Abrams, who's designed a personal system for hitting the camera—actually whacking it—in a certain rhythm to give it a "shaky-cam" stutter while letting you follow the action and still identify the participants.

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