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Green Zone

Rush To War: Green Zone

The audience at the local preview for Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone this week may be a harbinger. Or rather, the lack of an audience. The room in the multiplex was barely half full, a rare occurrence. The movie’s title refers to the fortified American enclave established in Baghdad after invading US forces reached that city in April 2003. For several years, American moviegoers have persuasively communicated their uninterest in, and antipathy to, films about the war in Iraq. Also this week, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, about an Army bomb disposal unit in Iraq in 2004, won the Oscar for best picture, but as the awards ceremony got underway Sunday night, this winner had brought in less than $14 million domestically after seven months.

Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) thought he might have a way to bust that hard-luck streak: by embedding his film’s theme—much more politically charged than The Hurt Locker’s—in the Bourne pictures’ sort of rat-a-tat-tat, thriller-diller physicality in order to fill theatre seats.

Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential) have imposed a supercharged war and espionage story on the violently chaotic background in Baghdad just after American troops occupied the city and Saddam Hussein fled. Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is leading an Army team tasked with finding Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, the main pretext for Bush and Cheney’s war. At great risk to his men, in a country pitched at the edge of civil war and insurrection, he’s coming up empty. When he asks his superior about the reliability of “intel,” he’s told to just do his job. (This may be the movie’s best scene.)

In league with a skeptical CIA guy (Brendan Gleeson), Miller goes rogue, first to find solid information about those missing weapons, then to make contact with a fugitive Iraqi general who may hold the keys to the mystery and to peace.

Greengrass has certainly delivered on the promise of action appeal; his movie moves along at a sometimes dizzying clip, as per his brand. It climbs to a high level of tautness, which it seldom relaxes. Eventually, the kaleidoscopic kineticism threatens to overwhelm the movie’s lickety-split narrative, although the filmmakers’ primary points can hardly be missed: There were no such weapons and the Bush administration knew it. No new charges there, but Greengrass has upped the ante with a big shot of conspiracy, which, however, he may not take very seriously himself.

Greg Kinnear smoothly incarnates a kind of stand-in for Iraq Civil Administrator Jay Garner, who the movie places at the center of a scheme to silence naysayers. Garner and his accomplices were mostly arrogantly insular and incompetent, but Kinnear’s Poundstone is malevolently ideological. Damon is appropriately resolute in a squarejawed, Steve Canyon fashion.

The odds still don’t favor the movie’s combination of conviction, razzmatazz, and potted, concocted history beating the box-office jinx. By now, Americans, who have often been described as politically amnesiac, have a newer war in Afghanistan to try to ignore.

Watch the trailer for Green Zone

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