Green Zone cost a reported $100 million and had a projected opening-weekend gross of about $14.5 million. The film needs to make about $200 million to break even, which it seems unlikely to do. All the signs are that Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone is just another Iraq war film that no one much wants to see—just like every one that has come before it. (Even with those Oscars hanging on it, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is still in the red.)
In some ways, Greengrass just can’t catch a break outside the Bourne series. His United 93 (2006) was criticized for being made “too soon” and now his Green Zone is being criticized for coming out “too late” to impress anyone with its revelation that the government manufactured evidence of weapons of mass destruction in order to justify invading Iraq. That may be true—or it may not. Considering the onrush of right-wing accusations that Green Zone is leftist, anti-American propaganda, the point seems open to debate. But if no one other than nervous conservatives are paying any attention, the effort seems to little avail.
Actually, Green Zone is first and foremost a thriller—albeit one with a message—and the sad fact is that it just isn’t all that thrilling. It’s moderately efficient for most of its length. The last 20 minutes are painfully protracted, and while this part of the film leads to the important line in the movie, it does so via a telegraphed “surprise” ending that made me glad I screened the film with only a couple of friends and not an audience. (Yelling, “We all saw it coming!” at a non-surprise in a crowded theater is bad manners.) That it also wants to say something is clearly the filmmakers’ prerogative. That they have simplified, telescoped, distilled and fictionalized aspects of the story is to be expected. This is a movie, not a political-science class.
Matt Damon is Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, a man who has grown tired of securing sites—often with casualties—that supposedly contain the mythical WMDs and finding nothing more than ossified pigeon droppings. He starts asking questions about whether or not the intelligence he is being handed is reliable. These are not questions anyone in charge—notably Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear)—wants to hear. On the other hand, crusty CIA man Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson)—an old hand in Middle Eastern affairs—is interested and tries to enlist Miller’s aid.
This proves to be forthcoming when a local, whom Miller dubs “Freddy” (Khalid Abdalla, United 93), directs him to a meeting of Saddam Hussein’s high-ranking military men. After taking a prisoner who promises to tell Miller where the big-cheese general Al Rawi (Igal Naor, Rendition) is hiding, Miller is flummoxed by the arrival of troops who relieve him of his prisoner. This so infuriates Miller that he throws in his lot with Brown, who, unlike Poundstone, wants to do a deal with the Iraqi army. Therein lies the bulk of the film’s plot as it becomes clearer and clearer that we’re dealing with more than faulty intelligence.
Facts and fictionalized versions of real people are tossed in, but the film is powered primarily by its action content and a series of suspense-driven scenes, even while the truth is uncovered. It’s not an unreasonable approach to the material, which attempts to draw the audience into the story’s more weighty aspects while entertaining them, but it doesn’t entirely work. A lot of this stems from the fact that Miller seems answerable to no one and gets away with far more than even the most credulity-inclined viewer is likely to buy—and all the quick-editing shaky-cam work in the world doesn’t change this. It doesn’t quite sink the film, but it’s distracting wondering just where Miller’s superiors are all of the time. It’s a good movie, but definitely a few notches away from a great one. Rated R for violence and language.