Monday, March 15, 2010

Going Green

Green Zone is cleverly marketed as if it were a Jason Bourne movie. It is, in fact, what a Jason Bourne movie would be if they were overtly political and Bourne's abilities were pretty much grounded in reality instead of giving him Matrix-like super powers. It's a pretty decent film which, along with The Hurt Locker, means that maybe Hollywood is figuring out how to make decent films about Iraq. Director Paul Greengrass and writer Brian Helgeland take Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, changed the names and added action sequences to make their movie set around the time George Bush made his famous "Mission Accomplished" speech.

Matt Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy "No, I am not Jason frigging Bourne" Miller, the leader of a unit dedicated to finding and disposing of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. This seems like it should be a pretty easy job since, in the several months he's been doing that, he's found jack. The so-called 100% certain sure-fire intelligence they've received on WMD sites has been wrong each time. Miller is especially upset about finding empty sites since his team has taken casualties from sniper fire and the like. Around this time we meet Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), a high ranking American official who's one of the people in charge of rebuilding and deciding the fate of Iraq despite the fact that he knows very little about it. He probably hasn't left Baghdad's famous Green Zone since he first arrived there but then again, why would he? That place is awesome. When Miller and his team arrive to meet with Poundstone, they're surprised to see that the officials and bureaucrats who live there lead a downright decadent lifestyle thoroughly insulated from the horrors going on outside the Green Zone's walls. Miller encounters Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), a CIA station chief who probably knows as much as any American about the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular so, naturally, his plans and suggestions are ignored by the know-it-all bureaucrats and Heritage Foundation interns who are in charge.

Real life events have been fictionalized for Green Zone though informed viewers will spot the parallels like an Iraqi exile based on a real man named Ahmed Chalabi who was supposed to have been installed as a puppet leader. In another parallel, the source of WMD information turns out to be a secret source known to most only as Magellan. This was probably mainly based on Curveball, a guy who told the Bush administration what they wanted to hear about WMDs even though he was a mentally unstable man who knew nothing. Miller discovers that Magellan is an Iraqi general who was promised a role in a new Iraq but has been betrayed by Poundstone after the decision was made to completely disband and cut out of power members of the Iraqi Army. This move is portrayed by the movie the same way it is mostly regarded now, as a huge mistake on the Bush administration's part as the Army might have been able to maintain order and put down the blossoming insurgency.

Miller spends the movie dodging bullets along with his Iraqi interpreter and source, a guy known only as Freddie who seems to be motivated only by the desire to help the Americans maintain order and, in the end, does what he thinks is the right thing (saying any more would be a huge spoiler).

Green Zone has already been denounced as anti-American by the usual suspects but can't be regarded as anything but accurate by informed viewers, even in its fictionalized state. Uninformed viewers might learn something but, if they don't want to, can still enjoy it as an action movie and covert ops thriller about smart people, some good and some bad. Its ending, I think, is naive but then again, it's a movie. It's not like any of this is real, right?

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