Universal // 2010 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 14th, 2010
Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller is done following orders.
"I know what you did."
As indicated in the film's tagline, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon, Ocean's Eleven) is done following orders. That's because he's been leading a military search for WMDs for quite some time now, and every site he has been instructed to check has been empty. Miller suspects that the military's secretive source "Magellan" has been providing false information. With the aid of a CIA Agent (Brendan Gleeson, In Bruges) and a reporter (Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone), Miller determines to investigate on his own and find out why he's been forced to lead so many fruitless missions. However, accomplishing this task is tricky, as he's facing stern opposition from authority figures like Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear, As Good As It Gets). Will Miller be able to unravel the conspiracy (if indeed there is a conspiracy to unravel) and get to the truth?
Paul Greengrass' Green Zone sets out to accomplish three things. First, it attempts to provide a portrait of just how difficult and complex the Iraq War was/is. Second, it attempts to provide a high-octane thriller in the vein of Greengrass' ultra-popular Bourne movies. Third, it stands on a pulpit and does a little bit of armchair military strategist finger-wagging, criticizing the military for mistakes that were made and lies that were told. While that last item does give the film a conventional, "been there, done that" feel at times (there are distinct echoes of Lions for Lambs, In the Valley of Elah, Body of Lies, and other Iraq War outings), the fact that it succeeds admirably in the first two categories makes it a thriller worth checking out.
What makes Green Zone exceptional is not what's provided in Brian Helgeland's script (one of cinema's most oddly inconsistent writers; he gave us L.A. Confidential and The Postman in the same year), but what is provided by director Paul Greengrass. Over the course of the past few years, Greengrass has been at the forefront of the "queasy-cam action movie" movement, creating films that offer frantic editing and positively unstable cinematography. What separates Greengrass from many of his imitators is that Greengrass actually knows what he is doing and demonstrates consistently that there is a method to his madness. Consider the way he used this technique to capture the you-are-there tension of United 93, or the way he used it to provide a thrilling symphony of chaos in The Bourne Ultimatum.
In the case of Green Zone, Greengrass applies his trademark techniques to thrusting the viewer in the middle of a confusing hell on earth. Whirring at lightning-speed between on-the-ground conflicts and behind-the-scenes strategizing, he successfully immerses us in the disconnected world of the Iraq War circa 2003. We see power struggles taking place between various government agencies, conflicts occurring between different military groups, a lack of effective communication leading to wasted time and counterproductive endeavors and a general sense of growing anger and frustration on all sides. One has to feel deep sympathy for the individuals simply trying to do their job and get things done; supposed allies are undercutting each other at every turn.
The casting of Matt Damon is also crucial, as we believe him to be the sort of person who might be able to effectively cut through red tape and work his way to the truth (particularly after seeing him do precisely this so memorably over the course of the three Bourne films). This isn't really an actor's movie, but Damon is onhand to provide a particular presence and a persuasive sense of moral authority, which he handles quite well. It's always good to see the likes of Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, and Brendan Gleeson, but all three handle their roles in a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact manner that won't win them any awards but which does go a long way towards keep us focused on what matters.
The standard-def transfer is clean and clear, offering a top-notch presentation of a film that isn't always a treat for the eyes. Daytime scenes fare best, as they present us with superb detail and deep blacks. However, the nighttime scenes seem to be exceptionally murky and grainy (this seems to be an artistic choice rather than a fault of those handling the transfer). Seeming aware of the fact that it's going to be difficult for standard-def to pick up on some of the nuances of the film's visuals, Universal actually goes so far as to include a sticker on the front of the case exhorting viewers to consider purchasing the Blu-ray instead in order to, "get the most from your HDTV." Audio is strong as well, with a remarkably intense and complex sound design dominating the proceedings. Dialogue comes through with clarity when it needs to, but often the focus is simply on the chaos. Frenzied as it is, things never become too muddy. I'm a fan of John Powell's aggressive score, but there are quite a few moments when it gets buried beneath all the gunshots and shouting.
Supplements kick off with an audio commentary featuring Greengrass and Damon, which is an engaging and informative listen. You also get some deleted scenes with optional audio from Greengrass and Damon, which run about 12 minutes combined. In addition, there's a pair of featurettes: the amusingly-titled "Matt Damon: Ready for Action" (10 minutes) and "Inside the Green Zone" (9 minutes). The former is actually a very engaging look at the casting of real-life soldiers as extras in the film (who proved far more capable of organizing themselves quickly than ordinary extras would have) while the latter is a disposable EPK-style featurette.
While I agree with the film's political point-of-view, it relies too hard on standard-issue sermonizing. One of the reasons the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker was so powerful was that it allowed us to simply observe what happened rather than force-feeding a point of view. Green Zone doesn't trust the viewers quite that much.
On a less important note, what's up with casting the excellent Jason Isaacs (The Patriot) and giving him almost nothing to do? He's on-screen a good bit but gets very little dialogue or significant activity. Too bad.
Green Zone is a worthy outing from a consistently solid director. Despite a small handful of flaws, it's one of the stronger Iraq War films made to date.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes