Director Paul Greengrass has an amazing gift for simulating documentary-style reality, as he’s proven in such notable films as Bloody Sunday and United 93. He’s also brought his shaky-cam and rapid-fire editing style to the Bourne series, with great success, although not every viewer appreciates his motion-sickness approach to visual storytelling. Now he has tackled an Iraqi war story set in 2003, at the very outset of America’s involvement. Matt Damon stars as a dedicated Army officer searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction and coming up empty-handed.
The crux of Brian Helgeland’s screenplay (inspired by material in Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City) is a series of supposedly shocking revelations. There’s just one problem: the movie’s outcome is made plain in the opening scenes.
Without the element of surprise, what’s left are the particulars, and they are not to be dismissed. Green Zone pulses with excitement at every turn, and as you would expect from this director, you feel as if you’re there in war-torn Baghdad alongside Damon and his costars, Greg Kinnear, as a smarmy Pentagon official, Brendan Gleeson, as a bullheaded CIA operative and Amy Ryan, as a Wall Street Journal reporter. The action scenes are potent and the tension is high in each set-piece.
Your political persuasion, and feelings about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, will likely determine your willingness to accept the movie’s central premise—which I won’t summarize here—but politics aside, I came away disappointed. A movie made by so many smart people shouldn’t show its hand at the very start and still expect me to respond to its so-called surprises later on.