A thriller about a pair of CIA agents on the trail of certain Weapons of Mass Destruction and a foreign correspondent following their mission. Inspired by Imperial Life in the Emerald City.

Greengrass/Damon thriller suffers collective memory loss.

Compactly built, with a steady gaze that pick out weaknesses and a head that is both literally and metaphorically hard, Matt Damon makes perfect sense as the leading man for Paul Greengrass. The English filmmaker, who previously helmed 2004's The Bourne Supremacy and 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, uses Damon's obstinacy to motivate viewers; he provides the answers they need. The problem with Green Zone, their latest collaboration, is that the historical setting of Baghdad in the days after Saddam Hussein has been expelled from power, is well known to us.

Using Rabat in Morocco for exteriors, with digital effects virtually decapitating buildings in the background, Greengrass has recreated a city where lawlessness is reaching boiling point after decades of official repression. There's no electricity, no water and no authority. When U.S. Army warrant officer Roy Miller (Damon) and his team arrive at a site that intelligence identifies as housing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), they find the locals looting the surrounding buildings even as they don their protective clothing.

It's the third miss by the unit and Miller believes the intelligence – the reason the very war was undertaken – is faulty. Others think the same way, including a Wall Street Journal reporter, Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), who has previously written reports based on leaks from the covert source, Magellan, as well as a veteran CIA bureau chief, Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson). But the operation, if not the country, is being run by the Bush White House man in the secured green zone, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), who says things like "democracy is messy" as if he’s making a cake and not risking the lives of millions.

Written by Brian Helgeland, Green Zone straps an action thriller onto the historical debates that occupied journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s 2006 book Imperial Life in the Emerald City. Chandrasekaran wrote about the battles that came after the fighting, when a country had to be built. The same questions are asked again in the film, although the need is intensified. The question over whether to retain the bulk of the Iraqi army, to maintain order, is exacerbated here by the fictional hunt for a top Iraqi general, Al-Rawi (Yigal Naor), who Poundstone needs to dispose of and Miller, with his makeshift translator Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), wants to bring in to expose the charade over Magellan's misleading intelligence.

The curious, partially dispiriting, thing about Green Zone is that it treats events that already have a well documented outcome as a mystery. We know the WMDs don't exist. We also know the Iraqi army was disbanded, effectively beginning the bloody insurgency. Unless this is an oblique comment on how the American general public has no collective memory, the picture is trying to have its cake and eat it, too.

Greengrass has Miller charging through barriers, getting knocked down (he's no Jason Bourne), and getting up and trying again, for a cause that lost out in a situation that became a policy disaster. The jerky, on the move camerawork and the relentless tempo of a technology-obsessed thriller can't hide the fact that Greengrass is using Miller in the same way Poundstone and his cohorts, drinking beer poolside inside Saddam's former palace, plan to.

Miller is almost anonymous, perhaps because he's best defined by his work. He doesn't get mixed up in the subterfuge of the intelligence community because of perceived patriotism, or a handy back story about a father who was a Constitutional scholar; he does it simply because he's annoyed that he can't do his job properly. Green Zone, ultimately, is a film about the decay of American professionalism; the workplace is no longer noble. But at the same time as corners are being cut in Iraq, the same attitudes were taking hold in the American financial system, where sub-prime mortgages and credit debt swaps were being issued for billions of dollars. Unlike Green Zone, that is a mystery we still have few answers to. Perhaps that would have been a better place for Paul Greengrass to start.

Related videos


1 hour 54 min
In Cinemas 11 March 2010,
Wed, 07/21/2010 - 11