*Green Zone (R)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
As long as you don't enter Paul Greengrass'Green Zone expecting Bourne 4 or a totally accurate history lesson, you should emerge sufficiently entertained and possibly even enlightened with regard to the real reasons behind America's involvement in the Iraq war.
A former British TV journalist, Greengrass has always been a thinking person's filmmaker, handling political tragedies with grace and restraint (Bloody Sunday, United 93). That thoughtfulness is no less evident in Green Zone, where he strikes an effective balance between backroom betrayals and frenetic on-the-ground combat.
Inspired by Rajiv Chandrasekaran's award-winning 2006 nonfiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, Brian Helgeland's loose adaptation begins with America's "Shock and Awe" campaign. Greengrass drops viewers into the chaos during the bombing of Baghdad, which we see from the point of view of Iraqi military Gen. Al Rawi (a magnetic Igal Naor) and his scheming cohorts.
Cut to several weeks later, when U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and his team of inspectors come up empty at yet another site while searching for weapons of mass destruction. Miller begins questioning the intelligence reports from his superiors, and soon discovers the intelligence comes from a single anonymous source. So he sets out to find the informant — code-named "Magellan" — and the truth.
Damon's man-on-a-mission is aided by a CIA "dinosaur" (Brendan Gleeson), an intrepid reporter (Amy Ryan) and an English-speaking Iraqi (scene-stealer Khalid Abdalla), who risks his life to inform Miller of a meeting among high-ranking Iraqi military officials, including Gen. Al Rawi. Their collective efforts to expose the truth are thwarted by smarmy Pentagon official Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear). who doesn't want the government's real reasons for the war made public.
When push comes to shove, Poundstone tries to cover his own ass, hoping to silence the general before Miller has a chance to track him down and bring him in for questioning.
It sounds like an awful lot of plot, but Greengrass and Bourne editor Christopher Rouse keep it surprisingly easy to follow. Greengrass is skilled in directing kinetic action, and the adrenaline-fueled set pieces are fairly engrossing. Meanwhile, John Powell's relentless score keeps the pedal to the metal.
Damon's Miller digs admirably for the truth, inspired by a need to know that he's doing what he does for the right reasons. No other characters are as multidimensional, but they hit their respective notes expertly (though Ryan is largely wasted in a clichéd role that reduces her to a pretty pawn in a dangerous game played by powerful men).
It's easy to forget that behind its bursts of gunfire, Green Zone is really about how the U.S. government wanted to dissolve the Iraqi military and install a democratic regime with an exiled leader so it would have access to Iraq's oil. Of course, historians will note the absurdity of tracing the carefully orchestrated and sloppily executed lie back to one easily identifiable "bad guy," while audiences may wonder why the reasons for the war mean so much to Miller personally.
But the bottom line here is whether or not this story works as a movie, and suffice to say, it does succeed where many other Iraq films have come up short. Audiences have a green light to check out Green Zone.