Thursday, March 25, 2010

Three reasons to hate "Green Zone"... two reasons to like it.

After hearing a mix of good and bad reviews about the new Matt Damon picture Green Zone, I decided to see for myself.

Overall, it was pretty bad.


Well, for a number of reasons.

1) It was too overtly political.

Essentially, the movie is about a WMD inspector (Damon) who finds that America was lied into war. Its thesis is that the Bush administration went to war knowing that there were no WMDs to be found in Iraq.

I'm not quite sure I buy that.

As a chastened supporter of the war in Iraq, there's very little about the Bush administration that I'm not utterly appalled and outraged at in retrospect. They were the most reckless bunch of morons to ever walk the face of the earth. They were guilty of many crimes: Stupidity. Arrogance. Criminal neglect.

But, at the end of the day, I think they were very surprised that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. On that (and maybe that alone) they were sincere.

This doesn't forgive the error.

The Bush administration had a horrible habit of cherry picking the intelligence that fit their thesis (that Iraq was hell bent on acquiring WMD) and ignoring anything that contradicted it. They saw what they wanted to see, and little else -- which is a grave sin for custodians of power. But if you read Barton Gellman's biography of Dick Cheney, Angler, you discover that months after the fall of Baghdad, Cheney was still examining the raw intelligence reports and calling David Kaye in the middle of the night to suggest possible WMD sites for him to check. Which is not really the behavior of a guy who thinks that there weren't any WMDs in Iraq.

2) Every character was a walking, breathing political spokesperson.

In a sense, I almost feel that Green Zone should be cut a little slack in this, because I remember that back in 2003, almost everybody I knew was itching to engage in some sort of moral, ethical, strategic, tactical philosophical conversation about what the war in Iraq meant; whether it was right or wrong; what would happen there; etc.

Greg Kinner plays an administration official, harping on about the messiness of Democracy. (I think he was supposed to be Douglas Feith, or a broad neocon composite.) Brendan Gleeson is the cynical CIA op. There's a one-legged Iraqi named Freddie, who levels accusations against Damon and makes prononcements about the invasion. An Ahmed Chalabi character and a Judith Miller character all turn up.

But, honestly, nobody speaks in such platitudes.

And these weren't real characters (with one or two exceptions). People are usually a little more complex than a one-idea spokesperson. These people were pretty much stripped of any complexity.

3) It was sort of tedious.

The director, Paul Greengrass, has done two of the Jason Bourne movies, and he employs a lot of the same chase sequences. The last 15 minutes or so, I was really sick of all the running and chasing and gizmo technology. Maybe I'm getting too old for that kind of thing, but I was gettnig very, very bored.

All that being said, I thought there were a couple of things worthy about the film.

1) It sets the scene pretty well.

The images of Baghdad in casual chaos (when there aren't necessarily buildings burning to the ground, but Iraqis who are coming in and out of government buildings with swag) were pretty good.

While the handheld camera shots were somewhat overdone, there were moments when it was used quite well.

2) Amy Ryan was excellent as Judith Miller.

She seemed like the only actor who had any depth; a reporter who had fucked up royally, but who seemed at least somewhat concerned that she had fucked up. But also self-justifying and self-loathing.

As an impression of Miller, it was pretty spot on.

But overall, skip it.