Directed by Paul Greengrass
Written by Brian Helgeland
Starring Matt Damon, Jason Isaacs, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Khalid Abdalla
Jason Isaacs was in a movie earlier in the decade called Black Hawk Down. This movie, even with its dramatic flourishes and cliches, Ridley Scott got this right; the military always work together, despite differences in branch, rank and personality, because beyond it all, they are Americans. If one takes the Isaacs characters from both movies, it can show the stark contrasts with all that is right with the older film and all that is wrong with The Green Zone.
In Black Hawk Down, Isaacs is Captain Mike Steele of Bravo company, 3rd Ranger Battalion, an imperfect commander (and real life person) but definite patriot, who progresses in the film, showing valor and concern for assisting his troops, even if his decisions are questionable. It is a daring portrayal of an imperfect man making decisions that could help or hurt his troops.
The Green Zone has Isaacs portraying a made up person, Major Biggs who is on a quest to kill or capture everyone in the Iraqi deck of cards. He is not averse to attacking troops of other battalions or branches of the military to carry out this goal, and he is more than a little aware that the supposed purpose of the Iraq invasion has nothing to do with Iraqi freedom.
The first portrayal is a genuine performance of an imperfect man, who has noble goals. The second portrayal is one of convenience to the plot, allowing the writers and director to portray the people who started the Iraq invasion as opportunists who knew the truth all along. While I am not too far removed from the that premise, the execution of the story leaves much to be desired. It’s far too easy to make a bad guy this bad, just to move a story along.
This is what is wrong with the movie, in my opinion. Greg Kinnear’s character, Poundstone, is supposed to be Paul Bremmer, the guy who came in late, made a ton of mistakes (like disbanding the Iraqi army, de-Bathification and many financial misgivings) and was ushered out as soon as it was politically expedient. In life, Bremmer was not even in the picture in the buildup to the Iraq invasion, he was a diplomat that knew some Arabic. He was an example of how little thought the Cheney/Bush administration had placed into the aftermath of the invasion. He truly made some horrible mistakes, but they had little or nothing to do with any orchestrated effort. Quite the opposite, really.
The Green Zone has the Bremmer character, Poundstone, in at ground level. In fact, they try to make it seem as if he were an orchestrator of the entire war. This just did not happen. I wish the Cheney/Bush Administration had been that organized. The Gleeson character, Martin Brown, is supposed to be a loose approximation of Jay Garner. Again, their approximation is a mile off. Garner was a retired Marine General brought here, just prior to the invasion to lead post-invasion reconstruction efforts. This is the guy that Bremmer replaced, awkwardly. At most, they worked for 2 months together, but this movie has them as combatants from the get-go. The movie also portrays the Martin Brown / Jay Garner character as very involved in the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). This just was not true. Garner, while a little put off by Bremmer and his obviously bad ideas, was intent to be back in his wife’s arms by July 4, 2003. And he was.
The thing about the search WMD is other than a small military unit, they were pretty much ignored for much of the post invasion. The team went on a search with 5-year-old half-baked data to over 900 sites from March 20 until May 30, approximately. The Cheney/Bush cabinet continually tried to push responsibility back and forth to one another until Bush assigned the CIA (who eventually assigned David Kay) the job. Kay resigned not even 9 months later, claiming he thinks that there never even were WMD from the start. This was a surprise, even to Kay, who had found the weapons in Iraq in the early 90’s, after the first Gulf War.
If this all sounds like a bit of a history lesson, it is. Because Damon, Greengrass and Helgeland, who have all made plenty of good movies, somewhat misfired here. I am wont to say it was intentional, as well. In their wish to paint the Cheney / Bush administration in an evil light, they have pushed facts around and made the thing another kind of falsehood.
Damon here is presented way out of context here. They want to make a Chief Warrant Officer involved in a routine hunt for WMD into another version of Jason Bourne, a guy without any responsibility who is just looking for truth. It is a nice dream, but this kind of off-mission roaming would hardly be any more successful than the organized roaming in the real invasion. Like a needle in a haystack, he finds an informant who is not only reliable, but willing to do anything, seemingly because he has no family to worry about. Oh, and he has one leg. Although well-played by Abdalla, this character rings as false as any in the movie. Just a convenient source to make all of their wishes about Iraq some sort of reality. This belies the fact that we really had no on the ground intel in Iraq. No way to win even a single heart or mind, much less a key one as portrayed by Abdalla.
The single worst portrayal and biggest waste of talent here is Amy Ryan as Lawrie Dayne, who is supposed to represent Peggy Noonan. It is revisionist history to make Noonan look like an actual reporter here, rather than the conservative propagandist she really is. The beginning of her downfall was Iraq, when she bought, hook, line and sinker, every whim and wish the Cheney / Bush Administration threw her way. Noonan was totally discredited in the process. She was in her “last throes” as a journalist by the time the Valerie Plame incident landed her in jail. Here, she seems a fellow seeker of the truth, who is relieved at Damon’s Roy Miller’s last ditch effort to undermine Kinnear’s Poundstone. If this is a completely fictional character, it is still a stretch. Cheney would not allow anti-message media that close to his head man in Iraq.
To sum it up, the wish of the filmmakers of The Green Zone appears to be to expose the hunt for WMD for some elaborate scheme to get into Iraq and just do bad stuff. This is not something that is completely far-fetched. To assert that there is any kind of overall orchestrated effort after landing the troops either to pillage the country, shore up the oil, or find WMD is where the stretch begins to snap. Too many facts are brushed aside (like the complete incompetence of Bremmer’s tenure) and in their place, the dream that we could expose the right-wing’s nefarious plans in the midst of chaos. The intentions are good, but the movie plays like fantasy, not the reality.
(** out of *****)