Green Zone opens with a brilliant, action-packed blaze reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan as a team of soldiers rushes through the chaotic Iraqi streets and terrified stampeding residents, through sniper fire, and to their final destination, a warehouse filled with weapons of mass destruction.
The only problem: the building is empty.
Despite reliable intelligence that suggests these weapons exist, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and his men have so far uncovered nothing but long-abandoned warehouses in their searches. And now Miller is beginning to question the information the Army is providing him.
And as you pause to breathe after the nerve-wracking start to the film, Green Zone takes a sharp left from being a harrowing war story and settles into a messy, finger-pointing condemnation of the Iraq War; specifically, those who filmmakers believewere determined to remove Saddam Hussein from power, no matter the lies they told, and the lives they sacrificed to do it.
Green Zone casts Miller, the heroic soldier turned patriotic rogue, as one of the film's few good guys, along with veteran CIA agent Brendan Gleeson (Martin Brown), who rightfully believes the United States fabricated the WMD's existence to justify its incursion into Iraq; an invasion, he fears, will ultimately destabilize and devolve the country into chaos in a matter of months.
After a few days of combat, Miller has seen enough troubling signs by desperate Iraqis to know the powder keg of insurgency the U.S. military is sitting on, so he agrees to help Gleeson uncover the truth.
Duplicitous in the Bush administration's claims and cover up of those WMDs is Pentagon intelligence chief Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), who employs a gang of U.S. special forces as hit men to keep a lid on Miller's investigation and eliminate any leaks in the concocted story.
Miller finds being at odds with fellow soldiers difficult to accept.
"I thought we were on the same side," Miller tells Gleeson.
"Don't be naive," he counters.
Assisting Miller, at times unwillingly, is an Iraqi citizen, "Freddy" (Khalid Abdalla), who's been dragged into this fight after providing important intelligence on a secret meeting between some of Saddam's former military leaders.
Also embroiled in the mess is a duped Also embroiled in the mess is a duped Wall Street Journal reporter, Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), who is all too willing to abandon due diligence of Poundstone's WMD claims for the sake of a good story.
Damon is dependable as a do-gooder. Brown and Kinnear are solid as moral counterpoints, and Abdalla is terrific as the film's conscience; though his final act of revenge in the movie is as preposterous as the dialogue he delivers along with it.
Ryan, though, is largely wasted in a role that begs for more development, other than delivering a few lines about interviewing an important source, and wondering what Miller is up to in his investigation.
The biggest failure, though, is in the film itself.
Uncovering the omission of facts by the U.S. military and the previous administration, as Green Zone claims, is a critical failure by the media that is largely responsible for the troubles that followed.
It's an incongruous statement considering Green Zone revels in half-truths and fictional events of its own in the name of making a good drama by which to champion its message.
Given all the holes in the logic behind the Iraq War, it was inevitable that this political and military cause would receive the Oliver Stone loose-with-the-truth treatment.
But who would have thought director Paul Greengrass would be the one to do it?
Greengrass won deserved kudos for United 93, a dramatic and honest depiction of the fateful flight on Sept. 11 that crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania after the plane's passengers foiled a terrorist plot.
He also gave us the final two films in the smashingly successful Jason Bourne trilogy, which set the template for the smart, gritty action movies we see now.
The successful elements of those movies should have combined into a smart, insightful examination of the Iraq War. Instead, Greengrass gives us a movie that provides some of the punch of the Bourne films, but is critically lacking the factual authenticity of United 93.
Green Zone was written by Brian Helgeland and "inspired by" Rajiv Chandrasekaran's work of nonfiction, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.
An "Inspired by" credit, in Hollywood speak, typically means creative license has been taken for the betterment of the film. With Green Zone, ‘‘inspired by'' means nothing more than an excuse for Greengrass and Helgeland to rewrite history to promote an agenda. And hasn't their conclusion that we were lied to been addressed before? Are we learning anything new here, except for a Hollywood concoction of the events as they might have happened, had a film studio called the shots?
Most accept there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to begin with. After seven years of searching, we've uncovered nothing. Restating that fact seems fairly obvious and pointless, especially so soon after Iraq's democratic elections.
Iraq is trying to move on. Perhaps Hollywood should do the same.
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