Matt Damon + Paul Greengrass + Action = Great films + Box office gold. Matt Damon + Paul Greengrass + Action + Iraq? Well that could be a little more tricky. By and large Iraq war movies have failed miserably at the box office, this despite the fact that most have been really rather good. Take The Hurt Locker for example, it won 6 Oscars, including Best Picture, yet barely recouped its $11 million budget in the States. With Green Zone Universal is banking on the Damon/Greengrass connection pulling in the punters and has deliberately toned down the Iraq references in it’s advertising campaign. So it’ll be interesting to see how it fares. So what’s it like when Bourne goes to Baghdad?
It’s 2003, the US has just accused the Iraqi government and Saddam Hussein of building and storing weapons of mass destruction, and is launching a major offensive aimed at toppling the Iraqi government and installing freedom and democracy. Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller is at the forefront of this offensive, his mission, find these WMDs and prove that Saddam and co. were up to no good. Entering more and more dangerous and deadly places the search turns up no weapons but instead uncovers an elaborate cover-up whose sole intent appears to be to justify the invasion. Coming up against rogue agents both foreign and domestic Miller searches for answers amid the faulty intelligence and convert espionage. But with his own side now intent on destroying him how can he get to the truth…
Matt Damon is a true-leading man and he commands the screen with a quiet confidence and formidable strength. He is never anything less than believable as the leader of this team of soldiers who are willing to risk their lives in their pursuit of the elusive WMDs. He is ably supported by a great cast that includes our own Brendan Gleeson as an old-school CIA guy whose been in Iraq forever and lends a hand whenever the plot needs to be moved on. He’s the one that opens up Miller’s eyes to the true nature of the war and Gleeson inhabits the character with ease. Greg Kinnear does a fine line as L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, coming eerily close to channelling the real man on more than one occasion. Jason Issacs too brings the hard-arsedness that’s necessary to play the nemesis of Damon’s more all-American hero. The Iraqi’s are also well portrayed with Yigal Naor’ elusive Iraqi general a delight. It’s only a shame that The Wire‘s Amy Ryan is under-utilised in her role as the investigative journalist intent on blowing the lid on the whole operation. She’s a fine actress who deserves more than her fleeting role gave her.
Brian Helgeland’s uncompromising script allow Paul Greengrass free rein to ramp up the action and explosion count without diminishing from the story. Keeping the number of characters to a minimum focuses the plot and allows for a more probing and intrusive look into the nature of this conflict and the conspiracy that surrounds it. The inherent problem with dealing with something that is so recent and that we’re all so familiar with still exists, but the sharper focus allows us to engage with the characters and hope for a different outcome. Greengrass familiar shaky camerawork is back but it’s a better fit here for the fraught and explosive situations, the real-life action sequences that populate the movie. Greengrass almost accomplishes the impossible, making a Iraqi war movie in Hollywood that truly reflects the events of the day, but the contrived ending and the need to wrap it all in a neat little bow stop it becoming the Full Metal Jacket of a new generation.
More than anything this movie deserves to find an audience. It’s movie-making of the highest quality and Greengrass and Universal should be applauded for the risk that they have taken. Factually accurate it may not entirely be, but as a work of fiction it’s a barnstormer.