‘Green Zone' conjures apt image of post-invasion Baghdad

by Trevelyan Wing | 3/28/10 10:00pm

Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp of action flicks have teamed up again, leaving behind the intrigue of espionage to tackle war and politics. Greengrass, best known as the director of "The Bourne Supremacy" (2004) and "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007), has reunited with his star to create another adrenaline-boosting thriller this time with a marked political message.

"Green Zone" (2010) is a crisp, candid, action-packed film in the vein of the Bourne trilogy. But instead of a rogue assassin, Damon is an articulate, competent soldier in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Damon convincingly plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, assigned to locate and secure Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which are supposedly hidden somewhere near a recently-occupied Baghdad. Leading a small detachment of specialists who repeatedly come up empty-handed even as they face sniper fire, Miller begins to question the faulty intelligence guiding his team from one supposed WMD site to the next. Driven to investigate further, Miller uncovers a traitorous web of double-dealing that calls into question the basic motives behind the American-led invasion of Iraq. Miller finds himself cooperating with a veteran CIA officer (Brendan Gleeson).

Miller's search for the truth about the weapons leads him to "Magellan," a top-secret Iraqi source who reportedly provided hard evidence of the existence of Hussein's WMDs. This pursuit takes Miller from one Baathist safe house to another, on the treacherous trail of a top Iraqi general and Baath Party member (played by Igal Naor). The film executes this setup skillfully, successfully weaving fact and fiction into a believable and enjoyable whole.

Inspired by the book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" (2006) by Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post, the film brings the war-torn Iraqi capital to life. The concise style of Brian Helgeland's script complements Greengrass's minimalist handheld camera direction and Damon's businesslike acting.

Throughout the film, Greengrass effectively uses stark contrasts, capturing the bombed-out Baghdad International Airport in one scene and a surreally peaceful Iraqi neighborhood in another, or an American troop detachment under sniper fire in one volatile city district and Americans lounging around a swimming pool sipping sodas in the U.S. compound nearby. This latter comparison highlights the director's masterful dramatization of the "bubble effect," in which American decision-makers' ignorance of the reality of Iraq has tragic implications. The film's title refers to this "Green Zone" a safe, tightly controlled American enclave in the center of Baghdad serving as headquarters for the American-led coalition forces.

"Green Zone" is courageously thought-provoking, deftly conveying the chaos in Baghdad immediately following the American takeover. The film effectively presents Iraq as a powder keg of ethic and religious tensions. Unlike recent films focusing on the tribulations of American soldiers on the ground, "Green Zone" is an unapologetically political film showcasing varied Iraqi perspectives and the American lack of perception into the complexity of post-Baathist Iraq. The film unabashedly exposes the faulty, uncorroborated intelligence that guided the United States to war. Miller and his team are seen speeding from one hot spot to the next, discovering intrigue, but not weapons.

The film makes audience members want to throw popcorn at the screen, watching U.S. officials' misguided efforts plunge Iraq into a morass of civil strife. It is even possible to feel some sympathy for the Iraqi soldiers marginalized by an unreasonable American decree.

Perhaps most importantly, the film provides a forum for the airing of Iraqi viewpoints. It depicts the plight of Iraqi citizens deprived of water, electricity and other essentials who receive little help from their "liberators," and gives Iraq's complex internal tensions (Sunnis versus Shiites, current inhabitants versus returning exiles) due attention.

The film also depicts the failed attempt by America to install a long-exiled Iraqi politician as the nation's new leader. The scene of his exultant arrival at the airport stands in contrast with the scene of a meeting of representatives from throughout Iraqi society, who argue fiercely with each other and their new leader. One shouts that his nation should be governed by a true Iraqi. In this chaotic scene, an American official (Greg Kinnear), whose machinations had facilitated the U.S. invasion, looks on in confusion.

The film demonstrates that it was not only Americans but Iraqis themselves who had their own agendas and expectations, ultimately showing the folly of toying with a volatile nation made up of quarreling ethnic and religious groups.

Near the conclusion of the film, Miller's Iraqi translator, a Shiite veteran of the Iran-Iraq War whom Miller simply calls "Freddy" (Khalid Abdalla), sharply tells the American, "It is not you who will decide what happens here." The Iraqi's words ring true as the film shows the Americans beginning to lose control of the nation they just liberated.

Iraq is a conflict many may wish to forget, but "Green Zone" forces one to remember. In this regard, it is a film truly worth seeing.

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