Review: Green Zone is no Bourne

On one hand it would seem unfair to compare Green Zone with Greengrass and Damon’s other two movies The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum, the characters are different and Green Zone attempts to tell a different story. On the other hand Paul Greengrass has stated that his purpose with Green Zone was to make a Bourne like thriller and set it in the Iraq war and the selling point of the movie certainly has been Bourne in Iraq. So I really have no problem contrasting Green Zone with the Bourne films and can say that Green Zone is no Bourne film. Not even close.

Green Zone follows Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller as he at first searches for WMDs in Baghdad in the first weeks of the war and then as he searches for the source of the faulty intel when no WMDs are to be found. That’s really the jist of the plot.

So what makes this not a Bourne movie? Well first there is a surprising lack of action. There are tense moments and the movie moves along briskly but this is definitely more of a “thriller” than a shoot ‘em up war movie. Also while I’ve defended Greengrass’ “shaky cam” in the Bourne movies, with Green Zone it’s almost incoherent. When there is action it’s almost unwatchable at times.

But that really isn’t where Green Zone diverges from the Bourne franchise. Greengrass decided that the best way to get his message across in this movie was to offer contrasts instead of developing characters. Every main character and even most of the scenes are contrasted with each other. Damon’s questioning honorable good-guy soldier is contrasted with Jason Isaacs unquestioning, torturing, Blackwater-esqe special forces guy. Greg Kinnear’s near diabolical administration intel guy is contrasted with Brendon Gleeson’s more knowledgeable and tempered CIA intel guy. The General Al Rawi’s commanding presence is contrasted with the ineffective mostly show presence of Ahemed Zubadai (the guy the US hopes will unite Iraq). Even the seemingly opulent and naive atmosphere of the Royal palace barracks is contrasted with a POW camp that would make a Nazi or Commie proud.(There’s even a contrast of Soldiers guarding the prisoners blithely watching sports while one of their prisoners is dying) Is there a message here? You betcha. The problem is that Greengrass is so obviously trying to make a point with black and white characterizations that the story suffers. He’s making a statement (THIS GOOD!!!- THIS BAD!!! And more often :THIS BADD AND THIS BAD TOO!!!) rather than telling a story. In doing so, the characters loose all subtlety and become caricatures.

Green Zone could have done with a little of Bourne’s universe of moral grayness. One of the things that made the Bourne franchise successful and set it apart in the thriller/spy genre was the moral ambiguity of its characters. Most of the time the antagonists in Bourne (the CIA) weren’t totally evil they were misguided, jumped to conclusions, or overreacted to what might be instead of what really was. Even Bourne wasn’t immune as he ended up finding in each movie that his decisions (as pre-memory loss Bourne or Webb) ultimately were the cause of his suffering. In the Bourne films no one had the whole story and everyone (including the audience) was putting it together, and in putting it together we got to know WHY the characters either wanted to get the whole picture or why they didn’t.

What makes Green Zone disappointing is that the elements are there to follow the Bourne model. If Greengrass had resisted his need to vent a little there could have been a little more mystery and intrigue. Nothing illustrates this more than “Freddy” Miller’s interpreter. Played by Khalid Abdallah Freddy seems to be the only character confused and exasperated by the complex situation. Freddy’s reaction in horror that the US might want to deal with Al Rawi is totally unused. Casting Al Rawi in a less than favorable light could have given a bit of tension that Kinnear’s intel guy might be right and Miller might be wrong. Even still, change one line of dialogue and Al Ralwi (who’s obviously using the American invasion for some sort of power play) becomes a bit more of a manipulator rather than someone who inexplicably gives America a big reason to NOT invade for the promise of support when they do. (If you just said “Huh?” yeah I’m there with you)

Greengrass has stated that he wanted to do a “real world” Bourne movie with Green Zone. Sadly his “real world” is so colored by his political leanings that it makes the world of the Bourne movies believable in comparison. If you want a great Iraq war movie do yourself a favor and rent Hurt Locker. I have no problem with Greengrass expressing himself through film (even though much of what he says is so two years ago) just don’t say it’s Bourne.


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