March 5, 2010 / 6:28 AM / 9 years ago

Bourne again: "Green Zone" a remarkable movie

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In “Green Zone,” director Paul Greengrass brings the frenetic, run-and-gun style with which he utterly transformed the movie thriller in the Jason Bourne series to a different kind of thriller, one with a sharper political edge.

For “Green Zone” explores the Bush administration’s willingness to embrace palpable lies over murky truths in order to sell the Iraq War to the American public.

Iraq mostly has been a nonstarter at the box office, but this is Matt Damon, Greengrass and the “Bourne” team reunited on another breathless venture into ticking-clock urgency. So Universal should easily overcome that hurdle to rack up considerable theatrical coin in North America and overseas.

Drawing on his years as a British television journalist covering global conflicts for ITV, Greengrass brings a cinema verite style to his thrillers. He makes these movies look as if a guerrilla camera crew has somehow tagged along with a movie’s protagonist to catch key moments in an unfolding story as it explodes in the character’s face.

In Hitchcock terms, the movie has both a goal and a MacGuffin. The goal is the determination by U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon) to discover why his team of inspectors comes up empty every time commanders send them to find chemical weapons in the Iraqi desert. The MacGuffin is a small notebook an Iraqi general grabbed four months earlier as the U.S. invasion began. It contains the addresses of Baathist safe houses in the Baghdad area.

Endangering the lives of his soldiers to hit a target, which Pentagon “intel” has fingered as a storage site for MWDs, and again finding nothing, Miller wants answers. Returning to Baghdad, he encounters three people who could supply them: Defense Intelligence agent Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), CIA station chief Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) and Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan). Miller doesn’t like what he hears.

All the intelligence comes from a single source. This source has confirmed Dayne’s many stories about Saddam Hussein’s stockpiles of MWDs and now pinpoints the sites Miller’s team fruitlessly searches. Then Miller runs across an individual who does have accurate information. A local, English-speaking Iraqi who calls himself Freddy (Khalid Abdalla) risks his life to approach Miller to tell him that key Iraqi army figures, all wanted by coalition forces, are meeting in a house nearby.

This proves to be true. But in a firefight, the Iraqi general escapes, leaving behind that notebook. This is briefly in Miller’s possession, but then a strange thing happens: A Special Forces unit under Lt. Col. Briggs (Jason Isaacs) abruptly moves in to snatch Miller’s prisoners. Miller is forced to slip the notebook to Freddy.

Aren’t we all on the same side, Miller wonders? CIA agent Brown cautions him against being naive. It now dawns on Miller that he has stumbled onto a cover-up. The race is on to find the general, who seemingly is the all-knowing source for much of the government’s intelligence — and the reporter’s stories. Not everyone wants the general taken alive.

Damon, in motion the entire movie, acts as a magnet, drawing every detail of the story and its character into his orbit. Although there might be a touch of naivete to his character’s determination to ferret out the truth, there is a Jimmy Stewart aspect, too. He positively will not let anyone, no matter where he belongs in the chain of command or how far “off the reservation” his character drifts, stand in the way of the truth.

The Brown vs. Poundstone dynamics — the “dinosaur” CIA veteran and the intelligence agent bringing Neo-Con ideology to the Middle East with little thought for the actual needs of a postwar nation — represent a dramatic standoff. The journalist, with the ghost of the New York Times’ Judith Miller lurking in the background, supplies one key piece of information in the troubling mosaic the protagonist puts together.

Abdalla, operating with a prosthetic leg and a battered old Toyota, represents the modern Arab, who watches in dismay as overconfident Americans try to snatch his rebellion and country away from him.

The movie takes its inspiration from a nonfiction book by former Washington Post Baghdad chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone.” It’s not, strictly speaking, an adaptation because Brian Helgeland’s script is fiction. Rather, the book supplies something of a beacon for the filmmakers, guiding them in their interpretation of the folly of ignorance and ambition emanating from inside the Green Zone, a safety area including the old Republican Palace where American decision-makers remain cut off from the Iraqi reality.

Greengrass and his “Bourne” team — cinematographer Barry Ackroyd worked with him on “United 93” — do a magnificent job of turning locations in Spain, Morocco and the U.K. into a realistic Iraq, a region tumbled into chaos and devastating destruction to its infrastructure. That chaos tips over into the action of the movie as the film hurtles from one destination to another in a race against time. John Powell’s propulsive music eggs the action ever forward, and Christopher Rouse’s rapid-fire editing nervously stitches the stunts, chases, fights and confrontations together.

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