Green Zone‘s problem is that it wants to give you a realistic history lesson on the Iraq war while at the same time taking you on a fantastic thrill ride in increasing defiance of history, logic and all that crap.
The film sets Matt Damon, a young grunt able to effortlessly defy the violence of war, conspiracy and the basic command structure of the U.S. Army, to unravel the fact that we went to war over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Damon is a soldier tasked to raid suspected WMD sites in the weeks after our invasion of Iraq, and he ends up staring down the Pentagon, the CIA, and a stand-in for the now-disgraced reporter whose sloppy stories helped the Bush administration drum up a war against Saddam Hussein. That reporter (Amy Ryan as a likably tough Judith Miller analogue) was manipulated by the government, which put out false intelligence to justify the invasion. The question Damon asks repeatedly, “Did the government know the intelligence was false, or did they just not bother to check?” is never answered. Which, as a central question the film poses, leads to disappointment.
But this movie doesn’t want to be a spiritual descendant of All the President’s Men. It wants to be the offspring of a drunken romp between The French Connection and Platoon. It’s certainly not the equal of either of those movies, but it’s a tight and engaging thriller, if you’re willing to believe that a chief warrant officer like Damon can run around day and night without anyone challenging him, as though being in the Army is like having a part-time gig delivering for Domino’s. Damon unravels conspiracies, dances with competing factions and races toward a blood-soaked conclusion. When you get to the end and see how Damon scores a moral victory against The Man, you will be jarred by the way it’s both at odds with history and, from today’s perspective, pissing into the wind.
Damon’s acting is top-notch, from his first scene as he rides watchfully through a shattered Baghdad until his final showdown. Another highlight is Khalid Aballa—it makes no sense why he lets himself get roped in as Damon’s translator, but he’s really good in the role and delivers the most powerful political comment in the film. Director Paul Greengrass, Damon’s colleague on two of the Jason Bourne movies, really ups the vibro-cam ante here, to a level that easily induces motion sickness in usually hardy viewers, but he creates a visual verisimilitude, in creating the action and recreating war-ruined Iraq, that the script lacks.
Addlebrained but slick, with a bonus reminder that Team Bush really botched the Iraq thing. You could ask for more, but Hollywood generally won’t give it to you.