Friday, 19 March 2010

Green Zone

John Powell's score thrums, the camera shakes and the frame positively fizzles with a nervy energy....Yes, we're back in Paul Greengrass territory of buttock clenching, politically charged action, where Matt Damon finds himself on the run from his former employers...

Hang on, isn't that the plot of the Bourne movies? Indeed it is, and it's an immediate problem for Green Zone. In spite of Greengrass' bracingly intelligent filmmaking and another commendably understated, compassionate portrayal from Damon, it feels like we've hurtled down these avenues before.

It opens with a blast of blitzkreig action as Damon's warrant officer Miller is yet again let down by suspect intelligence that has led him to another empty WMD site. Suspicious of the source 'Magellan', not only does he find an unlikely ally in Iraqi native 'Freddy' (Khalid Abdalla) but comes to suspect the intel itself is fabricated, threatening to blow apart the whole pretext for war. Only his superior Marty (Brendan Gleeson) is a source of support, and when Miller decides to go Bourne (sorry, rogue) in search of the source itself, slippery Pentagon man Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) and military toughnut Briggs (Jason Isaacs) do all they can to tie up loose ends first. Glib titles like 'The Iraq Ultimatum' aren't entirely unfounded.

Still, we can't help but be carried along by virtue of its sheer energy and the astonishing logistics of the production. Props also go to Greengrass and scriber Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential) for exposing a degree of recent history that, on reflection, western civilization is still shamefully ignorant of. Yet it doesn't rub our faces in the dust; Green Zone never preaches but blends a highly potent mix where the message is channelled through the action (most notably in an astonishing climactic 20 minute chase where several different axis of action crash in on each other in dizzying fashion).

Iraq as action film? It's a tricky concept but Greengrass has the cojones to pull it off. Throughout there is a commendable decision to shoot from the ground up, the Moroccan sets astonishingly convincing standing in as a country torn apart on a possibly fabricated pretense. The problem is that being based on 'factual' events (surely more plausible than realistic) leaves room for less of the ambiguity of the Bourne films. The narrative arc is shaped from the start, inevitably rendering the film too simplistic in face of the difficult events it's representing, and the easy coda subsequently reflects more wish-fulfilment than dramatic risk-taking. If only the news unfolding on Sky and CNN could be tied up with such an easy bow.

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