‘Green Zone’ can’t sustain promising start

  • Thu Mar 11th, 2010 3:58pm
  • Life

By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic

“Green Zone” is on the right side of history, as it affirms that intelligence about WMDs in Iraq was manipulated and the early occupation of the country was bungled.

But being right about history and making a good movie are two different things. “Green Zone” gets the pulse pounding, but it too frequently stumbles over its own feet.

The film re-teams the star and director of the last two “Bourne” spy thrillers, Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass, for an Iraq War exercise inspired by Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s nonfiction book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City.”

A fictional story, however, has been brewed up by screenwriter Brian Helgeland, in which a gung-ho Army chief played by Damon becomes skeptical about the way his WMD target sites all seem to be empty.

His questioning leads to a slippery U.S. functionary (Greg Kinnear), a cynical CIA agent (Brendan Gleeson) and a Wall Street Journal reporter (Amy Ryan) who’s been dutifully repeating the official line that there are positively, definitely weapons of mass destruction hidden in Iraq. (Her character is presumably inspired by the New York Times writer Judith Miller.)

Most of the action is concentrated into a single frantic day in 2003, as Damon tries to locate an Iraqi general who might have the information he needs.

Damon is stalwart, the settings are convincing and Greengrass (in the style familiar from his jittery “Bourne” projects) hustles the picture along with a shaky, handheld approach that can feel affected if you pause long enough to notice it.

Some of the thriller aspects work. But even diehard opponents of the Iraq War might find the wholesale invention of characters and situations a bit questionable.

When you’re laying out the case that a government invented and/or withheld information in the commission of a war, it’s a little strange to be cooking the books yourself, even within the free-wheeling expectations of a Hollywood movie.

The final sequence, in particular, is a strange moment of uplift that seems as much a re-writing of history as anything Quentin Tarantino tried in “Inglourious Basterds.”

More damaging is the movie’s tendency to shout its conclusions in full-throated dialogue chunks. These might be news to those not into current events, but they come off as strident.

Can’t blame the filmmakers for feeling like they needed to shout; polls still show that a mystifying percentage of people believe Saddam Hussein had something to do with Sept. 11. But when political urgency overcomes good moviemaking sense, things invariably fall flat.