While it’s not even the best film I’ve seen this weekend, The Green Zone didn’t deserve to flop. It’s well made and well acted, tells an interesting story and remains tense and gripping to the end. It’s simply unremarkable, and it’s easy to see why it got lost amidst the Hurt Lockers and Syrianas of this world. To be honest, though, I was more entertained by The Green Zone.
The dependably likeable Matt Damon plays Roy Miller, a US Army Chief Warrant Officer who starts to ask questions when all the supposed burial sites of weapons of mass destruction turn up empty. It’s Iraq in 2003, and CIA officer Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) and journalist Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) are seeking answers from Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear). Brown enlists Miller’s help, and soon Miller finds himself dangerously out of his depth, more able to trust the locals than his own side.
I liked The Green Zone because it wasn’t too pat or patronising. It recognises the moral ambivalence with which most people approach the entire war. Yes, the Iraqi people are better off now – but only just. After 1991, Saddam killed two million people, whereas we only killed one million. People still got tortured, but at least the Allies didn’t go after their families too. It’s … not exactly something to celebrate. The whole business with the apparently non-existent WMDs just makes it uglier still, and by making that the basis for this plot, it highlights the sheer absurdity of conflicts in the modern world, where in previous centuries they’d have stormed in just for funzies. It maintains an idealistic tone without being either too preachy or jingoistic, and is sympathetic without being sentimental.
The Green Zone is based on Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, and was originally to be adapted by Tom Stoppard (who was busy at the time). It was Paul Greengrass’s intention to make a film about the subject of the war itself rather than telling a particular story, and boiling it down to the actual search for the WMDs is a good way of doing that. The film was inevitably controversial, but that was not its downfall financially. It earned $95m at the box office, which would have been considered healthy for most films, but it cost $100m to make. I’m sure it will have performed healthily on DVD, and hopefully it will eventually reward its investors.
It’s not the most amazing war film I’ve seen, but it holds up well against the others of its type. It’s sensible where The Hurt Locker is silly, and straightforward where Syriana is baffling. It’s fascinating, entertaining and thought-provoking, with a fine cast and a decent screenplay.