The Green ZoneredThe latest woozily edited action flick from Bourne director Paul Greengrass is The Green Zone, an on-the-ground Iraq war movie that strings together an exhaustive conga line of action scenes in service of an ultimately simple hypothesis: that the existence of WMDs was a lie concocted by American “intelligence” and used by the U.S. government for the purpose of political expediency.

The audience naturally responds with: well, duh.

The thrust of this bombs-n-guns bloke-fest may feel a lot like an exercise in articulating the bleeding obvious, but evidently Green and star Matt Damon feel passionate enough about reinforcing yesterday’s news to make a slow, debilitating and droning war movie.

The Green Zone has lots of running, lots of yelling and plenty of smoke and gun fire. But bizarrely there is a sense that not much is ever happening. Rather than dishing out high octane thrills the film plays like agitating background noise, as if audiences would be well within their rights to yell to the characters to keep it down because some of us have to work in the morning.

Chief Warrant Office Roy Miller (Damon) and his team are dispatched to find weapons of mass destruction in Baghdad in 2003. Surprise surprise, they find nada – no trace of stock-piled weapons but plenty of booby traps and ominous situations. Miller suspects their intelligence is way, way off, and while carrying out his orders begins collaborating with CIA agent Brown (Brendon Gleeson). There is also a throw-in role for Amy Ryan as a Wall Street reporter.

There is nothing wrong with Matt Damon’s flustered and cranky performance. As usual Damon sleeks unashamedly into the film’s reality, his famous looks the only thing betraying his place in this world, although he doesn’t leave audiences much to talk about afterwards.

The centrepiece scenes in The Green Zone are long and sweaty, and in trademark Greengrass style they consist of hundreds of rapid shots pasted together. This kind of blurry editing attracts its fair share of critics, but if used well there’s no doubt the technique can amp up moment by moment verisimilitude in ways classical framing cannot.

But Greengrass’s action scenes this time around feel cold and clinically directed, albeit in tune with a throbbing sense of intensity – but it’s an intensity geared towards situations rather than people or characters. The stark lack of plot and story takes its toll.

Greengrass, a talented director whose magnum opus is the terrifying 9/11 movie United 93, isn’t prepared to fully simplify the characters into convenient cookie cutter definitions. So while the film has a shaved-head Iraqi baddie, no ones’ heart is really in it. Greg Kinnear attempts to give the U.S. lie-pedalling bureaucratic character more than token what-a-jerk resonance, but no such luck.

The Green Zone’s Australian theatrical release date: March 11, 2010

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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