Universal // 2010 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // June 22nd, 2010
Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller is done following orders.
A theatrical flop hoping to find new life in the home theater market, Green Zone (Blu-ray) tries to counter its critical flaws with a behemoth technical performance. There's nothing an aggressive LFE track can't solve, right?
Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity) is feeling the pressure, and not just from the oppressive heat in Iraq. The leader of a platoon tasked with searching out suspected hiding places of WMDs during the Iraq invasion, the mission's repeated lack of success has been taking its toll.
Miller grows suspicious of his superiors, suspecting them of having bad intelligence. He befriends a reporter (Amy Ryan, The Wire) and a cynical CIA agent (Brendan Gleeson, In Bruges), but soon runs afoul of a Pentagon officer (Greg Kinnear, We Were Soldiers) who knows more than he's letting on. Soon Miller finds himself in the most unlikely of situations -- going rogue in order to find the truth.
The latest in a long and proud series of war films exploring the cynicism and mistrust of wartime authority, Green Zone is in many ways is a straightforward and predictable tale. This is less a criticism of the film itself and more a commentary on our own disenfranchise with the media and methodology of the endless war in the Middle East; a seemingly never-ending conflict with confusing and often contradictory ideology and justification. In 2010, it is hardly a stretch to suggest that the motivations to invade Iraq may be less than justified -- most of us have been pondering the possibility for years. Green Zone makes an excellent go of the material, but in a sense, the film feels less shocking than it should; like a twist ending you already know the answer to before you see the film.
A fictional adaptation of a nonfictional book, the award-winning Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Green Zone has a political axe to grind, ladling out steaming doses of condemnation towards the United States in its handling and motivations behind the Iraq invasion. For Miller, a principled and dedicated soldier, he is in Iraq getting shot at and risking his life to find WMDs and save lives. Surprise, surprise: just like in real life, poor Miller finds no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, for the most obvious of reasons. He gets Angry about this, with a capital "A," pretty much the only gear setting the character has in this film. He is aided by a jaded CIA agent (Brendan Gleeson) who is Cynical with a capital "C," and thwarted by a sleazy Pentagon agent (Greg Kinnear), who is Sleazy with a capital "S." And so it goes in Green Zone. Perhaps it is difficult to establish character growth amidst all the gunfire. The characters are weak sketches, vague one-dimensional constructs molded out of clichés from other war films more memorable. Between this and the lack of dramatic tension in the narrative (it's not like we don't know how things ended in regards to WMDs), Green Zone struggles to find its relevance in a crowded marketplace. Five years ago, this would have been dynamite material, but today, there's an awful lot on the market to challenge it -- The Hurt Locker, Body of Lies, and so on.
Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass revive their partnership from The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum and throw us back into a familiar shaky camera action explosion world. Squint your eyes and you could be watching any of the Bourne films. Squinting also helps cut down on the motion sickness. The action sequences descend into a chaotic cluster of tracer rounds, strobe lights, handheld grainy camera shots, and cursing so frenzied that it is impossible to tell which gun-toting shadowy figure we should be rooting for in the gun fight. This approach certainly captures the feel of war, but at the expense of comprehension. Pound for pound, this is a well-executed action film; the choreography and detail is impressive and realistic -- explosions are realistic, gunfire obeys the laws of physics and bullets fire the correct amount of ammunition.
It may not be a great film, but Green Zone is a competent film from start to finish. Alas, there are no euphoric, genre-defining moments of exceptional action; no moments of dramatic tension and pathos, or political truth-bombs that knock our brains into moral grey zones. The pacing is consistently solid, with respectable amounts of action, drama, and politics, but somehow the end result is forgettable; a satisfying meal, but not one you'll remember much after the check gets paid. If ever there was a textbook definition of a film you'd want to rent, Green Zone is it. You'll get your money's worth, but not so much that you'd want to add it to your home collection.
The Blu-ray presentation is quite superb in its faithfulness to its source material. Regardless of whether you enjoy the shaky documentary style camerawork or not, it certainly translates beautifully to 1080p. Low-light sequences exhibit a healthy amount of grain, varying in intensity from urban gritty realism to just plain distracting. Black levels are deep; colors are muted with a lean towards a greenish-yellow tone throughout the film. The image is crisp, but not excessively so; hand-held sequences trend towards the soft in comparison to sweeping city shots. The end result is an immersive and nuanced transfer sure to delight action fans; a perfect illusion of a war-torn and hear-seared Iraq.
Audio is where this film soars, by which I mean explode all of your speakers in a shower of sparks and electrical fires. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a caged animal; when you hit "Play," it destroys your living room. Bass response is aggressive and bombastic; bullets and helicopters swirl around all five channels with barely controlled ferocity. The LFE in this film is almost ridiculous. Close your eyes and you would swear you were dropped into a combat zone. Quiet dialogue sequences give way to Armageddon as bombs explode and gunfights spontaneously erupt, so be prepared to give your neighbors warning before you toss this one in the living room player. Green Zone has a killer technical presentation.
Extras include a feature-length commentary track with actor Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, as well as deleted scenes with optional picture-in-picture video commentary by Damon and Greengrass. Two featurettes, "Matt Damon: Ready for Action" and "Inside the Green Zone," delve into the obligatory behind-the-scenes making-of footage. The BD-Live 2.0 content is aggressive and will persistently remind you of its "features," like Mobile-To-Go, adding bonus features to your portable smart phone of choice and banal social networking features. A digital copy of the film is also included to watch on your computer or approved portable device, as well as D-BOX Motion control information.
I know movie studios are getting excited about Blu-ray 2.0 profiles and feature-enabled discs, but Green Zone (Blu-ray) may be the most annoying Blu-ray disc I've ever had the misfortune of loading in my DVD player. After sitting through ten minutes of trailers -- ones that I have to wait for as they download from the internet just to get to the menu -- when I hit "Play," the movie better bloody start. It should at no point prompt me to register for social networking and share my thoughts on Twitter and Facebook.
Seriously, Universal, did anyone actually think this one through? Connecting me and hundreds of thousands of other pissed off people onto social network sites right when you are trying to watch the damn movie is not going to work in your favor. Unless, of course, Universal actually want to sift through hundreds and hundreds of curse-ridden electronic posts thrown at them.
Even the navigation menu is overlaid with annoying (thankfully removable) banner ads promoting new Universal title releases. Congratulations, Universal, you have done the impossible: you have turned my home theater experience into Internet Explorer.
Green Zone is a tight thriller, striking a balance between high-octane action and brooding political pessimism, and, despite some annoying special features, the Blu-ray presentation is top notch and will give your home theater system a serious workout.
There is an air of redundancy about Green Zone, a whole "been there done that" vibe that never really fades as you watch it, like a lingering odor of staleness and one-dimensional character development, but not enough to detract from the visceral thrill of its action elements. This is not Matt Damon's or Paul Greengrass' finest work, be it separate or collaborating, but a solid effort from both like Green Zone is still better than most of the fodder you'll find on the rental shelf.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 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
* D-Box Motion Enabled
* Digital Copy
* Official Site