Who’s In It: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson, Khalid Abdalla, Jason Isaacs
The Basics: It’s 2003 in post-invasion Iraq, where U.S. Army Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is charged with finding the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that inside intelligence reports swear are hidden throughout the city. Suspecting that the Pentagon’s tipsters are wrong, Miller goes rogue to help CIA operative Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) blow the lid off the whole thing, only to discover a conspiracy more sinister than he could have ever imagined… but not any more sinister than you could have imagined, because you read the newspapers and you know your modern American politics. Right?
What’s The Deal: Though it feels like a spiritual sequel to the Bourne spy movies, which also starred Matt Damon (two of them were even directed by Green Zone helmer Paul Greengrass, whose shaky-cam signature is all over the film), Green Zone brushes away the comparison with a story grounded in modern historical context and a burning question for the Bush administration that still persists: Where exactly were those WMDs that led us into Iraq? With that nagging query as his jumping off point, screenwriter Brian Helgeland orchestrates an entertaining-enough web of mystery, complicity, and political shenanigans that bring Miller and Brown clashing with a Pentagon mouthpiece (Greg Kinnear), a Wall Street Journal correspondent (Amy Ryan), a wanted Iraqi general (Yigal Naor), and a local man (Khalid Abdalla). But while Green Zone’s politics are familiar and its firefights and foot chases thrilling, its fictionalized conclusion isn’t satisfying – but then, nothing short of a public apology from its real-life counterparts would truly be.
Dear Paul Greengrass, Please Invest In A Tripod: I enjoyed the visceral thrills of Greengrass’s closely filmed handheld action in The Bourne Supremacy and its sequel, The Bourne Ultimatum; the shaky aesthetic works for intimate, one-on-one fights and gorgeously choreographed rooftop parkour sequences. Unfortunately for Greengrass, the camera work he employs for Green Zone’s long set pieces and chases through darkened alleys works against the action itself, making it all but impossible to discern what the heck is happening on screen. The film’s first set piece follows Matt Damon as he leads his squad bravely into sniper fire, chaos all around them, but the spastic camera moves so wildly from corner to corner it’s like watching someone else play a first-person shooter game. Even if you can follow the action, you’re likely to get a headache. And then how will you use your brain to figure out all the twists and turns?
The Actor Who Will Blow You Away: Isn’t Brendan Gleeson, who’s excellent as usual despite his strained American accent and dialogue that occasionally veers toward military movie cliché. (Sample line: “They’ve got him, dammit! They’ve got him!”) Nope, the best performance in the entire film comes from Khalid Abdalla, who previously played a terrorist in Greengrass’s United 93. As Freddy, a local civilian who volunteers to help Miller nab Iraq’s most wanted, Abdalla is moving and even comical at times, transforming a character written as the token “good” Iraqi into the film’s most significant representation of post-war Iraq.