One interesting side effect of the richly deserved Oscar laureling of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is the high bar it sets for new contenders in the Iraq war film genre. If we weren’t so stunned by the unique artistry and the larger social-political-military resonance of Bigelow’s film, a second-wave Iraq war flick like Green Zone probably would have had a stronger impact. As it is, this film loses its way, starting out in a rough-hewn style, but yielding to slicker, reality-derailing suspense tactics late in the game.
Director Paul Greengrass is best known for his work on the Matt Damon-starring Bourne Identity franchise, but his masterpiece so far is United 93, telling the tale of the heroism and terrorism on 9/11. In that context, Green Zone could be viewed as a sequel, historically and strategically speaking, but the going gets overly Bourne-y.
Early on in the film, Damon’s character is a heroic and well-meaning soldier, assigned with the important task of ferreting out the infamous, mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction, while grappling with his rapidly eroding faith in the mission at hand. Quickly, Damon becomes a determined lone wolf, putting together a puzzle of misdeeds involving the media-supplied lies of a Wall Street Journal reporter in Baghdad (Amy Ryan), a corrupt cardboard military villain (Greg Kinnear), and a helpful Iraqi man (Khalid Abdalla).
While Green Zone ultimately gives in to Hollywood formula, it, like The Hurt Locker, Brothers, and The Ghost Writer, belongs to a growing body of important films finally dealing with the weaponry of mass deception that led us into the Iraq war quagmire in the first place. These films are not first responders, but well-considered inquiries into the mess that won’t quit, years after the fact.
In Green Zone, one of the creepiest moments is also too real: Bush is seen in his infamous and now tragically comic “Mission Accomplished” scene, smugly announcing American victory. Hmm, wasn’t that seven years ago? Maybe the mass medium of cinema, more than the humdrum nattering buzz of our transient news media, will help America contemplate the nature of what has been done, and continue on its dark path.