A few months ago, much to the disappointment of fans, director Paul Greengrass announced that he would not be doing a fourth Jason Bourne movie, essentially ending one of the most acclaimed action franchises of the 21st century. Thankfully, Greengrass and Bourne star Matt Damon have reunited for Green Zone, an action-thriller that could just as easily be another sequel, if not for a different protagonist and a much weaker screenplay.
Green Zone is set in Iraq shortly after George W. Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" declaration and follows an U.S. military officer named Miller (Damon) who, tasked with finding WMDs, begins to suspect that such weapons don't exist. Aided by a CIA agent (Brendan Gleeson), Miller goes rogue to track down an Iraqi informant who could prove that the United States has been falsifying reports for its case for war. Lots of shooting ensues.
Green Zone looks a lot like the last two Bourne movies, with shaky camera syndrome, long action sequences and gritty visuals. Greengrass drops right into the story and action with little setup - perhaps too little setup - assuming everyone knows the back story. As with the Bourne movies, he takes a to-the-point approach, giving us a no-hold-back action movie.
Unfortunately, Green Zone doesn't feel like the Bourne movies. By now, most people accept that the case for invading Iraq was based on seriously faulty intelligence, or, more likely, an intentional deception of the American people by the U.S. government. We went to war because we were told there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but there weren't and the U.S. knew that before they attacked. Greengrass' film, based on Brian Helgeland's script, is set in this world, a fictional tale that tries hard to convince us that it is all truth.
The problem is: the issues presented in the movie are too current. When Helgeland hits on something he deems important, it feels like he's forcing his beliefs down the throats of people who are already in agreement. And when the script veers into action mode, the pieces don't quite fit into the realm of reality. In other words, Green Zone wants to tell an entertaining, conspiracy theory story but it set itself for failure by tying itself too closely to the facts.
The screenplay, in general, is weaker than we've come to expect from a Greengrass movie. The characters are underdeveloped and are more black-and-white than we've come to expect from the filmmaker. The bad guys, personified by an extremely uninteresting Greg Kinnear, are easy-to-hate but lack the intensity or moral grayness that Brian Cox and David Strathairn represented in Supremacy and Ultimatum. Damon is fine but unexceptional. Gleeson, typically a reliable actor, is especially bad.
Unfortunately, these weaker elements also take away from Green Zone's best asset: the action. Greengrass' trademark shaky camera seems less effective here, perhaps simply because the characters and story are less engaging. The final action sequence is long and fast-paced, but ends in a disappointedly predictable and unrealistic fashion. Looking at movies such as Body of Lies, The Hurt Locker and even The Kingdom, Green Zone just doesn't compare.
Green Zone is an entertaining but ultimately flat thriller that fails to even approach the levels of Greengrass' other movies. Green Zone is worth seeing - maybe just on DVD - but would have benefited hugely from a stronger screenplay.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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