Review: 'Green Zone'

(Two stars)

Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller could teach Sarah Palin a thing or two about "going rogue" -- assuming he lives long enough to tell the tale.

In 2003 Baghdad, Miller and his unit are charged with rooting out weapons of mass destruction. Burned three straight times, Miller complains that he and his men have been risking their lives on bad intel. So when his team happens on some first-hand intelligence about fugitive General Al Rawi (Igal Naor), Miller defies orders to chase down the truth about the WMDs that predicated the Iraq War. With that, action thriller "Green Zone" is off to the races.

Those naysayers who questioned the appropriation of the Iraq War for entertainment purposes in the newly minted Best Picture "The Hurt Locker" will have a cow over the latest collaboration of star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass ("The Bourne Supremacy," "The Bourne Ultimatum"). Unlike "The Hurt Locker" (incidentally, also shot by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd), "Green Zone" shows little interest in characterization, instead assembling clunky narrative machinery that amounts to an action-packed fiction remake of Charles Ferguson's 2007 doc "No End in Sight" (rather, the film cites as "inspiration" Rajiv Chandrasekaran's 2006 non-fiction book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City."

In some ways, the story here -- like Greengrass' acclaimed "United 93" -- seems "too soon" for useful perspective; in other respects, it already feels like old news. Given what we know about WMDs, how can "Green Zone" be anything other than two hours of anticlimax? As Miller, Damon does his best to be a sterling, steely distraction from the script's deficiencies, but even he can't make credible the preposterous loose cannon he's asked to play.

The script, credited to rewriter Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential"), serves up soldiers, spies, politicians, reporters and Iraqi civilians who speak almost entirely in cliches. There's Brendan Gleeson as Martin Brown, the CIA's Baghdad bureau chief (who tells Miller, "You're right. This thing doesn't add up"). There's Greg Kinnear as Paul Bremner stand-in Clark Poundstone, a Pentagon rep who spars with Brown and Miller. There's Amy Ryan as suckered Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne (read Judith Miller), whose articles on the intel of mysterious source "Magellan" stoked political support for the invasion. And there's Freddy (Khalid Abdalla of "The Kite Runner"), a shudderingly angry yet noble local who agrees to help Miller while reminding him, "It's not for you to decide what happens here."

Audiences have already proven time and time again that they see nothing escapist in the Iraq War, so why did Greengrass go there, bringing his signature shaky cam? Presumably to get away with telling an "important" story in the guise of a popcorn picture. But "Green Zone" is tired and corny -- not meaningful -- and frantic in its action rather than genuinely exciting. Despite his ever-impressive command of mise-en-scene (best demonstrated by an opening sequence that gives us an insider perspective on the bombing of Baghdad), Greengrass deals a bad hand from his deck of Iraq War playing cards. "Green Zone" is a study in futility, in more ways than one.

Rated R for violence and language. 1 hour, 55 minutes.

— Peter Canavese

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