by Tony Dayoub
Nothing gets my back up more than seeing a movie oversimplify the facts to promote a political agenda. Green Zone, the latest by the Bourne team of director Paul Greengrass (United 93) and Matt Damon (Invictus), does just that. It is the most simple-minded example of progressive propaganda to come out from Hollywood since The Deer Hunter (1979).
Green Zone reduces the pivotal inciting incident for the prolonged Iraq War to the fate of an enemy general who knows too much about the truth behind Saddam Hussein's WMD program. Army Chief Roy Miller (Damon) is drawn into finding the general by a CIA agent (Brendan Gleeson) after repeatedly failing to find any WMDs on the ground. Meanwhile, Miller is trying to keep a reporter (Amy Ryan) and a mercenary (Jason Isaacs) at bay. The efforts by an unctuous Pentagon official (Greg Kinnear) to shut the general up in order to deliberately mislead the American public ironically follows the same pattern the movie does in perpetrating its own plan of winning hearts and minds—dress it up with smoke and mirrors, but keep the program simple.
Greengrass executes some pretty fine setpieces. I've never been one of those critical of his particular brand of stunt stylization. His fast-paced crosscutting and shaky handheld camerawork have proven to be a noxious influence on a new generation of directors who don't have his grasp of cinematic choreography, often leading to muddled, confusing scenes. But Greengrass himself always seems to come through, and in Green Zone he does it amazingly well in some low-light situations.
But it's all done in service to a lousy script by Brian Helgeland, full of clumsy platitudes. I paraphrase: one Iraqi character tells Miller, "You do not make decisions for our country." Another, the conflicted general, says, "You think Washington is going to really want to hear the truth?" And Damon's Miller is a self-righteous do-gooder who decides to go off the grid in an effort to uncover the truth, something which seems so antithetical to this by-the-book military operative that it is laughable.
As many of you know, my own political leanings are considerably left of center. So you would think I'd be tolerant if a film plays towards my politics. But I prefer arguments to be made with some credibility. Simply making loaded pronouncements with authority is not sufficient. Some would say that's how we got into this Iraq quagmire in the first place. In fact, this film says so. Even Greengrass' expert escalation of tension over the course of the film is not involving enough to disguise the bias of this interpretation of the events leading up to Iraq's insurgency. It's like the only source material they used was Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). By the time we get to a scene where Miller meets Gleeson's CIA operative poolside at Saddam's palace with Intelligence and Pentagon officials relaxing in tanktops and bikinis while carrying AK-47s, it really gets absurd.
It's also difficult to ignore the agitprop aspect to the marketing of Green Zone. Three different times I tuned into MSNBC today, as we liberals are usually wont to do. And all three times, I saw ads running for Green Zone, surprising because of the usual dearth of movie commercials on "the place for politics." Universal owns MSNBC, a left-leaning channel. Universal is also the studio behind Green Zone. You figure it out.
Don't get me wrong, it's not Green Zone's assertions that I have a problem with. It's the thinly veiled, smug, self-congratulatory way it goes about promoting them that I find revolting.
Green Zone opens nationwide Friday, March 12th.