Review: 'Green Zone' turns a smart novel into an average thriller

In Green Zone, Matt Damon plays U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who leads a platoon looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 

Universal Pictures

In Green Zone, Matt Damon plays U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who leads a platoon looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 

Days after an Iraq war movie won the Oscar for best picture, another marches into theaters, riding on camouflaged coattails.

I have a sneaking suspicion that some moviegoers will mistake Green Zone for The Hurt Locker or believe that seeing one makes up for the fact that they skipped the other. Universal Pictures is banking on it, so don't be that gullible ticket buyer.

Green Zone is a movie as frenetic as The Hurt Locker was tautly constructed, and a quizzical project to say the least. It's based on a book that nobody with the production seems to have read, and it was filmed like a documentary despite the famous actors running around.

Director Paul Greengrass has proved himself a talented thrill maker with two Jason Bourne adventures starring Matt Damon and a masterful quasi-documentarian with United 93 and Bloody Sunday.

Combining the two styles in Green Zone results in a ruthless swirl of action and gutless conspiracy theories, since Greengrass won't identify anyone responsible for false claims of weapons of mass destruction hidden in Iraq — a key reason that the United States went to war. Unresolved history is merely an excuse to make its star Bourne again, kicking butt and, yes, taking names.

Damon plays U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, leading a platoon into hot spots where bad intelligence reports claim that WMDs are stashed. We now know that they never existed, but many soldiers were killed and wounded looking for them. Miller begins to suspect it's a ruse to make a case for invading Iraq, and he soon goes rogue by withholding clues and suspects for his own investigation.

Greg Kinnear co-stars as defense intelligence agent Clark Poundstone, a composite whose smug brushoffs of Miller's suspicions signal he's lying. Amy Ryan pops in occasionally as a Wall Street Journal reporter (based on a New York Times scribe) being led by the nose by Poundstone, passing along inside information to readers without verification. The CIA is represented by Brendan Gleeson's enigma, who knows Miller is right but does little to reveal the truth.

Green Zone is billed as being based on Rajiv Chandrasekaran's nonfiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone. Only a few minutes of the movie appear to back up that claim. Chandrasekaran focused on the incongruities of an oasis in the center of Baghdad, a faraway American suburb of sorts. The material is ripe for a political satire, not this breakneck action flick set mostly outside those guarded walls.

Greengrass' signature Dramamine-cam jiggles, swivels and zooms, hell-bent on convincing viewers that they're "there." We're thankful for the occasional English subtitles, which offer something to focus our eyes upon for more than a semi-second. At least Green Zone isn't 3-D, or else the theater's cleanup crew might have extra mop duty between shows.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

. Review

Green Zone

Grade: C+

Director: Paul Greengrass

Cast: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Khalid Abdalla, Igal Naor

Screenplay: Brian Helgeland, based on the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Rating: R; war violence, profanity

Running time: 115 min.

Review: 'Green Zone' turns a smart novel into an average thriller 03/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 11, 2010 11:14pm]

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