When reviewing The Bourne Ultimatum in the summer of 2007, I praised it for "channeling the undeniably sketchy political and technological climate of this day and age and allowing one angry American to right all of the wrongs, on our behalf and by his own visceral means." Cut to 2010, and director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon have re-teamed to put another scorned soldier on the front lines with Green Zone.
The problem is, "amnesiac assassin vs. shady agency" is a bit more cut-and-dry than the multi-faceted political quagmire inherent to our invasion of Iraq, and perhaps sensing that Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" was denser than Hollywood would allow, Greengrass, Damon and writer Brian Helgeland have conspired to ensure that the good guys and bad guys on each side of the conflict are glaringly apparent from the get-go.
It's April of 2003, and for the third consecutive time, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and his team have hit a reported site of weapons of mass destruction only to find nothing. Miller's getting frustrated with the bad intelligence he's being issued by bureaucrat Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) and his super-secret source, and he's not the only one tired of getting no answers and being told to stop asking questions. With the CIA's Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) and the Wall Street Journal's Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) on his side, Miller heads off to hunt down Gen. Al Rawi (Yigal Naor) before Poundstone's personal soldier boy (Jason Isaacs) can take him out and maybe, you know, save the nation of Iraq along the way.
See what I mean? For every good soldier (Damon), there's a bad one (Isaacs). For every good intelligence man (Gleeson), there's a more devious one (Kinnear). And for every helpful Iraqi citizen/sidekick/conscience (Khalid Abdalla of Greengrass' United 93), there's a Jack of Clubs on the loose (Naor). And the journalist who passed on everything she was fed with the best of intentions? Yeah, she might redeem herself yet, but what really matters is that Miller gets to go above and beyond the call of duty to do what's right.
And yet for those expecting The Bourne Insurgency to unfold, Green Zone is unsurprisingly composed of a little more conversation, a little less action, which wouldn't be so bad if the dialogue hadn't consisted of clunkers along the lines of "You picked the wrong side" and "This isn't what I signed up for," and exchanges like "We're here to do a job. The reasons don't matter." "Well, they matter to me." Worse yet, the lengthy chase that closes the film is a dark, grainy mess, a regression of Greengrass' seemingly honed talent for making shaky-cams and quick cuts exciting instead of exhausting and a fine metaphor for the film itself as a whole, a blur of frantic action and fractured ideals.
Knowing full well what happened in Iraq (or, rather, what hasn't), and knowing full well that the audience is equally aware, Green Zone still manages to end with an especially indulgent development, a happy little lie that we just paid to see as opposed to the big fat one we're still paying for. It's a gesture designed to send us out of the theater with a smile - maybe even a fist pump - before we step outside, take a deep breath and wait for the other shoe to drop.
William Goss lives in Orlando, Florida. But don't hold that against him.