In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq, claiming contrary to reports that the country possessed weapons of mass destruction. Seven years later, American soldiers are still being deployed to the desert nation despite official acknowledgement that such weapons never existed. In Paul Greengrass’ new film Green Zone, the question of why we went to war is revisited inside a high-energy action film with enough truth thrown in to make it a smart political thriller. Reuniting the director with Matt Damon for the third time, the film is just as smart and kinetic as their pairings in the Bourne franchise, only with a new troupe of characters and a real-world feel.
Based on the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Green Zone stars Damon as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, the leader of a squadron searching for WMDs. After three unsuccessful missions, Miller begins to question the intelligence given to them by senior officials. Speaking with the CIA Baghdad Bureau chief (Brendan Gleeson) and an embedded journalist for the Wall Street Journal (Amy Ryan), Miller discovers a source named “Magellan” is responsible for all of the misinformation that has led Miller in circles. Going his mission alone, with the exception of an Iraqi native (Khalid Abdalla) who serves as his translator, Miller begins his hunt for the source and the reason behind the war, much to the chagrin of Defense Intelligence agent Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), who executes every order he can give to try and stop Miller from discovering the truth.
Where the film truly excels is in its direction. Greengrass began his career in journalism for Britain’s ITV, where he filmed war zones much likes the ones seen in this film, and there is no doubt that this experience aided his filming of this movie. The director’s trademark handheld cameras once again work wonders, be it in a scene in which Miller’s team takes a house where major Ba'athist leaders are rumored to be meeting or in the incredible chase scene through the streets of Baghdad that occurs in the film’s climax, which is nothing short of a spectacular triumph.
Filled with both friends of the director and long-time collaborators, the film’s cast is incredibly strong, but almost to a fault. The movie's focus on action is so tight that it becomes The Matt Damon Show, and while Damon is surely one of the best actors working today, the spotlight shines so brightly on him that it dims around everyone else. Most unfairly left out are the film’s central antagonist played by Kinnear and the special forces lieutenant played by Jason Isaacs, whose character has an unforgettable introduction only to become a generic soldier leading the hunt for Miller. The good news is, much like the Bourne films, by the time the third act rolls around you are so immersed in the story that you almost entirely forget about the other characters. It is only walking out of the theater that you may ask yourself, “What happened to Brendan Gleeson?”
That said, anyone who has previously watched a Matt Damon performance will not be surprised at how perfect he is in the role. Possessing the same moral fortitude as Bourne (a character Miller will undoubtedly be compared to) but lacking the physical strength and fighting abilities, the superhero element is taken out of the equation, leaving the audience with a human and relatable character. Miller has watched enough bullets fly and held enough faulty intel that by the time we meet him he is already sick of the bullshit and wants some answers.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the film is that, in lieu of having actors and extras dress up in fatigues, the men that surround Damon are actually trained soldiers who have spent time fighting in the Iraq War. This might not sound significant, particularly because the men get very few speaking roles, but where it counts is in the details. The tactics and movements of the team all feel real, and in one scene, in which Damon instructs a soldier to take down an Iraqi they are interrogating, you begin to wonder if they went through stage training and if that actor is going to be okay.
Many will go see this film expecting to see Jason Bourne Goes To Iraq and they won’t be disappointed, provided they are prepared to see Damon as a different type of character surrounded by the same level of energy and action. While we may now know for a fact that there were no WMDs in Iraq, Green Zone revitalizes the question that we still haven’t received an answer for.