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Green Zone

Paul Greengrass

If it were not for the war-torn backgrounds (which pass very nicely for Baghdad, at least for one who hasn't seen it), Green Zone would be the sort of espionage thriller that has served Harrison Ford so well for years. The darkest enemy is a traitor, naturally camouflaged to look like a friend. Here, the enemy is Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), a Pentagon official who lies about what one of Saddam Hussein's senior generals has told him about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Knowing what his masters want to hear, Poundstone has suppressed the general's acknowledgement that all such weapons were dismantled long ago. Now, in the first flush of "Mission Accomplished," he leaks falsehoods to an eager reporter (Amy Ryan) and generates a lot of bogus "intel," sending American troops into risky situations Iraq isn't deadly yet that one warrant officer, "Chief" Miller (Matt Damon), has come to see as dangerous wild goose chases.

And that's what makes the efficiently excellent Green Zone different from a Jack Ryan caper. Precisely because the nation is at war, it is important not to be reckless. Recklessness is all very well for short-circuiting the odd malignant plot, but it is no way to run an army, and what provokes Miller's curiosity is an almost parental sense of responsibility for his men. But curiosity doesn't work well in armies, either, and only the rush of time and the chaos of mobilization soften the rogue nature of Miller's heroism. (His second officer, played by Jerry della Salla, politely declines to participate in Miller's improvised operation, a gesture that Miller politely accepts. The ground is very tender here.) The extent to which a shift in allegiance away from Poundstone's Pentagon and toward the CIA, represented by Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) might constitute treason is given a baleful glance. In any case, it is the men of the American establishment in Iraq, and not the Iraqis themselves, who menace Miller most throughout The Green Zone.

Who will be the first to get to General Al Rawi (Yigal Naor)? Miller wants the general to attest to the fraudulence of Poundstone's knavery; Poundstone wants the general to be dead. Miller has Brown's support, which is largely a matter of legitimate intel, but he is massively outgunned by Briggs (Jason Isaacs), a Poundstone operative with whom Miller at one point comes to blows. Al Rawi expects the Americans to make a deal with the Iraqi army; the stupidity of dissolving it never occurs to him, and it takes him completely by surprise when it is announced (at Poundstone's behest, no less). By this time, sensible members of the audience, to whom Paul Bremer's incompetence became all too familiar, will be suppressing groans. Director Paul Greengrass infuses his action scenes with a visual confusion that confutes the still-painful memory of what happened in Iraq in 2003. He places Miller in enough physical danger to displace the overall lack of suspense surrounding Miller's mission, substituting the earnest hope that Miller will simply live through it.

It is too early to tell whether Green Zone's most lasting achievement will be to take the empty jingoism out of "supporting our trooops." (March 2010)

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