In “Green Zone,” the area described in the title is the former Baghdad palace of Saddam Hussein. One month after the “shock and awe” campaign of the 2003 invasion, the place is occupied by the massive U.S. military/bureaucratic presence. It is also a metaphor for the way in which the Americans in charge there sealed themselves away from the realities of life outside the country-club like grounds.
Bringing the bad news from the dusty streets is Chief Warrant Officer Miller (Matt Damon) one of the soldiers involved in the fruitless search for the mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction. (You remember: the reason we invaded Iraq?) He’s increasingly frustrated by the bad intelligence he constantly receives, leading him to, for instance, a factory full not of dangerous chemicals but pigeon droppings.
Miller also has some literally incredible access to upper-level Pentagon types. One of them, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), repeatedly stonewalls Miller’s attempts to get at the source of the faulty intel. Poundstone doesn’t need the aggravation because, hey, it’s Mission Accomplished time: President Bush is on TV saying we won!
Trouble is, rumpled veteran CIA agent Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) avers, unless the defeated Iraqi army gets brought into cooperate, the country will be engulfed in civil war and we’ll be stuck there for years. In particular, we need to find and bring in General al-Rawi (Igal Naor) and convince him of our good intentions. Somehow, Miller winds up with this assignment, though just how a regular Army guy does the bidding of the CIA is not clear.
Miller forcibly enlists the aid of a translator nicknamed Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), a man who lost his leg in the war with Iran. He has no loyalty to Saddam, but great love for his country. He and Miller’s team follow various leads through the dark streets of Baghdad, getting involved in firefights, chases, captures and escapes—the stuff of action flicks.
All this comes at the audience at feverish pace, director Paul Greenglass employing many of the same tricks he used to showcase Damon in the latter two Bourne movies. The lightning edits, jiggly handheld camera, relentless soundtrack, and constant tension wear one down after a while, threatening to bury the story and the thematic point, which is well worth remembering. But he and screenwriter Brian Helgeland (“inspired by” Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s non-fiction account of this time) maintain a fairly clearly dramatic arc, despite the over-use of coincidence, stereotype, and sheer improbability. Damon is convincing enough, though the best acting in the film is that of Abdalla as a man torn and tortured, caught between large forces and events that he can’t control but can, ultimately, crucially affect.
“Green Zone” aims to be a serious film wrapped up in an action flick. Rated “R” for violence and language, it isn’t quite what it has been advertised to be. Damon and Bourne fans will doubtless enjoy it, but Greenglass is after larger game here. It’s worth the pursuit.