Movie News & Reviews

'Green Zone': Film veers wildly from book it was based on

The case has been made that the Bush administration railroaded America into invading Iraq by ignoring evidence, facts and logic, never considering the consequences.

Paul Greengrass, the Bourne films and Bloody Sunday filmmaker, commits a similar sin with Green Zone, a film about that invasion and the search for phantom weapons of mass destruction. He has ignored inconvenient facts — and indeed the very book on which the script (by Brian Helgeland) is based — to conjure an entertaining if sometimes risible ticking-clock thriller about what "they" didn't want you to know in the run-up to war.

The book was Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a dry comedy of errors by Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran about "neo-con" arrogance, inept planning, naïve political optimism and simple Bush White House incompetence. Greengrass and Helgeland have wrung a conspiracy out of that, with Matt Damon as a heroic in-over-his-pay-grade chief warrant officer who starts asking questions about why all these WMD sites that he has risked life and limb to get to have turned out to be "doughnut" holes.

Greg Kinnear is the cunning "Democracy is messy" Bush Pentagon planner who is there to play politics with every decision. Brendan Gleeson plays the CIA section chief who can see the future and lectures one and all on the "insurgency" that will begin after a few days without water, electricity or anything for the vast, newly unemployed Iraqi army to do. Amy Ryan is the guilt-ridden Wall Street Journal reporter who printed White House whoppers and now sees the consequences (she's based on Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times).

And Khalid Abdalla is Freddy, the wooden-legged Iraqi who tries to help Damon's chief in the field, translating, passing on tips, assisting raids.

"I want to help my country!"

Green Zone isn't so much a bad movie as a misguided one. In the Greengrass zone, action is amped up by whiplash editing, shaky cameras, snippets of night-vision video. The Bourne director's impact on action films is vast, and this one stages chases and house-to-house combat with great verve. But he loses the central metaphor, the bizarre alternative reality that the political hacks were living under in their guarded enclave, away from the chaos outside the Emerald City's walls.

And with every Gleeson variation of Colin Powell's "You break it, you buy it" analogy, every earnest Damon "discovery" that he and the country have been lied to, every fresh bit of evidence that the people who planned this weren't intellectually up to the task of sweating the details, Green Zone begs another variation on this response. Yeah. And?