Green Zone (2009)

Rated: R for violence and language.
Length: 115 minutes
Grade: B+DDD=C
Budget: $100 million
Box Office: $106 million (35 U.S., 60 Intl., 11 DVD)

Written by: Brian Helgeland (Curque du Freak, Taking of Pelham 123, Man on Fire, The Order, Mystic River, Blood Work, A Knight’s Tale, Payback, The Postman, Conspiracy Theory, and LA Confidential), with background influence from the book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
Directed by: Paul Greengrass (Bourne Ultimatum and Supremacy, United 93, and Bloody Sunday)
Starring: Matt Damon
With: Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, and Amy Ryan.

An American Chief Warrant Officer in Bagdad tasked with finding WMDs begins to suspect something is wrong when each location they seize yields no weapons at all.

Entertainment Value: B+
The Bourne guys know how to make movies, and the $100 million budget really shows here. It’s fast. It’s entertaining. And the only thing likely to interfere with people liking it is the fact that it is so clearly presenting an anti-war-in-Iraq message that the otherwise excellence of it stumbles over its distastefulness. You just can’t make a movie like this during a war like this and think that loads of people in America will watch it. Matt Damon makes an anti-Iraq-war movie? No way! Still, it’s full of good and bad guys and it’s a well-crafted war thriller. Of course Damon’s character is a cartoon and his survival through the plot ludicrous, but don’t we all love a good comic book sometimes? And besides, the reason this movie will work for some people is that it simplifies, explains, and then solves for the errors surrounding the war in Iraq.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence D, Language D-
This is R, and the problem is war violence and language. Of course. But it’s a matter of volume, not of any particular awfulness. I’d say R-15.

Significant Content: D
There is quite a bit of conflict in substance here. On the good side, we want people who think and ask questions and try to discover what’s really going on, especially when they have been deceived. The truth matters and must come out. So the hero is really a hero. Also, the people in Iraq want the war to be a success even more than our military does, a great message to remind people. On the other hand, of course, this movie has the White House being deliberate liars to manufacture a war not merely on a lack of evidence but in full possession of the truth. “Someone lied, thousands died,” would be the slogan here. Where this film could have gone beautifully right would have been if they had decided somehow to cast the villains not as deliberate falsifiers but rather as bumblers who ineptly believed too much on too little evidence. That would have been more palatable as a lesson. Also, most of the military folks here are either dense, cowardly, or evil (as with the Special Forces guys). Any film which presents the military this way bothers me and most Americans, I hope.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
What I strongly disliked about this movie was that it did a terrible job of emphasizing to the audience that this is a work of pure fiction. See, the most likely outcome of the average uninformed American watching this is to wander out of the theater thinking, “Holy mackerel. Did that really happen?” (At least that’s what they’d say if people hadn’t stopped saying, “Holy mackerel” in 1964.) The makers have had to defend it by saying it’s fiction with realism and a message. But since it’s based on a book (a fact the film proclaims), I think the film owed the disclosure to its audiences that the book gave realism and details about post-invasion events rather than the core of the plot. You can’t entice people to believe such a fabulous fiction and then pretend it’s okay because everyone knows it’s fiction. This winds up duping people just as badly as it claims the government duped us.

Discussion Questions:
~In the encounters between Miller and the Special Forces guy, what do you want to see happen?
~Do you think it’s likely that someone like Miller would be able to operate with this much freedom and impunity in such a situation?
~What do you believe is the explanation for our failure to find WMDs in Iraq?
~Do you think a movie like this helps or harms the people who watch it, in general? What sort of responsibilities do filmmakers have to their society when at war? How would you compare movies made during the current wars and those of World War II?
~What sort of obligations would someone in Miller’s position have to honor the chain of command or to not act on his own? Why are such obligations important under normal circumstances? When and how can we tell when it’s necessary to circumvent such rules?
~How do you think we might learn from the intelligence failures surrounding the war in Iraq and apply those lessons to future military actions? Why should we all be good epistemologists?
~Even if something as sinister as this were true, could you still think of the Iraq war as a success? What if it were merely based on an error? Do the humanitarian justifications of the war work without WMDs?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The opening briefing.
~Freddy telling Miller why he helped him.
~Talking with the General.
Overall Grade: C
Absurd but fun big-budget, anti-war action propaganda. For much better Iraq war TV, watch Generation Kill.

No comments: