Matt Damon plays the lead role in ‘Green Zone’, directed by Paul Greengrass.
A Green Zone far from St Patrick’s Day
EVERY schoolchild learns that Ferdinand Magellan was the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe. It was quite the shock, then, when I subsequently read that Magellan was killed en route, during the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines.
How, I wondered, did his boat make it back to Spain without him? Did it know where to go? (Forgive me, I was a naïve kid; I thought he had travelled alone, Ellen McArthur-style.)
It turns out that Magellan was simply the captain of a 237-man crew. Just 18 completed the round-the-world trip.
‘Magellan’ is also the code-name of a high-ranking Iraqi informant in Paul Greengrass’s new movie ‘Green Zone’. And as with the Portuguese explorer who caused such confusion in my youth, all is not what it appears.
Greengrass, the man behind two Bourne movies and ‘United 93’, has again teamed up with Matt Damon, who plays Roy Miller, head of a US Army unit charged with finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The film opens with the latest in a series of fruitless searches for these elusive WMDs – this one in a Baghdad toilet factory. “We rolled a doughnut,” he notes subsequently.
Frustrated by his failure to locate anything of value, Miller teams up with Martin Browne (our own Brendan Gleeson), a CIA agent who’s anxious to make a deal with members of Saddam Hussein’s defeated administration. But he’s swimming against the prevailing currents, represented by Greg Kinnear’s a member of the Pentagon Special Intelligence Unit.
Brian Helgeland’s script is decent – “Have a nice war” and “My leg is in Iran since 1987” are among the most memorable lines.
And for a conflict which has produced its fair share of cinematic duds (‘Lions For Lambs’, anyone?), there’s something to be said for the policy of ‘a little less conversation, a little more action’ adopted here, especially when the action is well shot.
Damon is reliably solid, and the look of post-war Iraq is well captured, as well as some of its stand-out characteristics.
I’d almost forgotten about the deck of cards that US soldiers were given as a means of identifying Saddam’s officials, which prompts Miller’s incredulous question: “You’re gonna cut a deal with the Jack of Clubs?”
There are nods to the pliant media, the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ inflicted on prisoners, and the internecine strife both between Iraqis and among different parts of the post-war administration. “I thought we were all on the same side,” Miller mutters. “Don’t be naïve,” CIA man Browne shoots back. Somehow, the film-makers resist having Bruce Springsteen sing ‘I’m caught in a crossfire I don’t understand’ at this juncture.
The absence of WMD is clearly an aspect of this controversial war that should be put under the microscope. But because the audience know that the efforts of Miller and his unit will come to nought, it’s difficult to care about his attempt to unravel the web surrounding them.
Miller eventually comes onto the same page as those in the cinema, via an explanation that’s more conspiracy than cock-up. We haven’t seen this kind of political paranoia thriller since the 1970s.
But in the later part of the picture, we go down a road previously seen in that paean to bad history, ‘U-571’. In their efforts to tell a coherent story, those behind ‘Green Zone’ have boiled everything that subsequently went wrong in Iraq down to a few tiny elements that one soldier might have changed. As I learned with Ferdinand Magellan, sometimes reality gets in the way of a good yarn.
Rating 6 out of 10