Monday, March 15, 2010

The Green Zone (2010)

The Green Zone is pretty much the anti-Hurt Locker, high on star-power and social indignity, and the combined urge to search out reason and answers for big-picture questions too complicated and powerful to answer in a single 2-hour action flick.  Loosely adapted from the book by former war reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Paul Greengrass’s film takes place in Iraq at a time when President Bush was on an aircraft carrier declaring “Mission: Accomplished” while many American were starting to wonder just what that mission really was.  Matt Damon plays one of those Americans, a chief marine officer charged with the acquisition of WMDs.  Only every site his team hits is empty, a casualty of faulty intel.  Damon wants answers.  He wants the truth.  But can he handle it?

  Honestly, he’ll never get the chance.  Every answer he finds is a half-truth, clouded by even more questions and his own unwillingness to actually step back and examine his own uncovered intel.  His Chief Miller is a blunt instrument, and perhaps a dull one.  He’s determined, and bound by a moral logic.  But for all his digging and “off reservation” actions and quests, he only proves himself incapable of handling.

  The result, then, is a message movie with a muddled message.  Our hero isn’t “in the know”, and almost by definition cannot be.  So his movie chastises bad people for doing bad things, all the while remaining content in the simplicity of that declaration.  Which begs the question – why ask questions you can’t or don’t want to answer?  And more specifically, why now?

  If anything, The Green Zone is a reminder of this nation’s own complacency.  We never found WMDs.  We never found our answers.  And yet, we dealt with that.  We collectively moved on, somehow irresolute.  In other words, we ARE Chief Miller.  And that kind of…sucks.

  But if we are a collective victim under a misguiding veil as the movie suggests, the studio has no problem hanging it’s own veil to cover it’s movie’s true nature.  Damon and Greengrass, if you recall, worked together on the Bourne franchise, twice (Supremacy in 2004, Ultimatum in 2007) and to weighty Box Office results.  So we get trailers of another but-kicking Damon flick, again as a blunt instrument, but one immaculately incapable.  Alas, it’s a slight of hand.  There are some intense, well-stage shootouts and chases.  But overall moviegoers looking for an action hero will surely be disappointed by Damon’s noir-minded protagonist.  Oh yes, noir – a man in over his head, confounded by questions with answer he can’t or won’t fathom, continuously bested by peers and superiors alike, able to find resolution, perhaps, but unable to truly win.  This isn’t an action film.  It isn’t even a war movie.  It’s a thriller, a dark seeded mystery set in the deserts of war.

  Only nobody seems to understand that.  Not Greengrass, with his high-intensity shaky-cam and video game-like visuals.  Not screenwriter Brian Helgeland, who penned the modern noir classic L.A. Confidential (1997) but can’t even bother to fake character depth here.  And not Damon, who’s momentary pauses of cognitive consideration play more like he’s remembering he’s supposed to be thinking…something.

  Thus, The Green Zone plays out before us, a partially understood story of partial truths and assertions.  But it never pulls us.  It never feels confident.  So why should we have confidence in it?

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