So the screening I saw of Green Zone was spliced out of order… I’m not sure that the audience noticed. Such is the frantic chaos of Greengrass’ latest handheld actioner. The film starts in the middle of the first bombings of Baghdad in 2003. The camera tightly frames a collection of nameless but official looking Iraqis as they scurry about a house grabbing documents and being rushed into get-away cars. The subtitled dialogue is terse and specific. As they flee the house we get a harrowing crane shot of the US bombs falling all over the city.
Cut to four weeks later and the official ground war is all but over. Captain Miller (Matt Damon) leads a team attempting to recover potential WMD. There are not enough soldiers in the first team to secure the building from the thousands of looters that have taken to the streets and a sniper who has taken high ground in a tower so Miller sets up an approach and gets shit done. This happens over and over again. Green Zone is at heart a political thriller attempting to explain the lack of WMD on the ground despite the Army Intelligence sources and press reports citing very specific sites and locations. The Wall Street Journal and AI are the conspiratorial bad guys while the CIA and Damon are the good guys who try to unravel the conspiracy in the middle of one of the most hostile environments on earth.
Layered on top of the conspiracy plot that whisks the audience thru the film is an indictment of the Iraqi War – both the evidence used to get us there and the execution once we were on the ground. The CIA’s Iraq expert warns of the eminent danger of an unemployed army wandering the streets. In the middle of the film there’s a very Neroesque scene where Miller and his men walk into the heart of the protected green zone – Saddam’s palace – and see journalists, bureaucrats and very attractive hangers-on in bathing attire lounging around the crystal clear water of Saddam’s pool. At this point we’ve already been shown thousands of Iraqis protesting water shortages.
Greengrass of course is a master of camerawork. His loves the shakeycam and I’m pretty sure he chooses projects to fit that desire as opposed to the other way around. Naturally when the chaotic cinematography stops it means something – such as the slow dolly shots by the pool. The film’s final shot recalls that earlier one at start of the war, but this time when the crane lifts us above the din it’s not the beginning of US operation in Iraq, its the beginning of the long and bloody insurgency that we’ve all since come to know. And you can just see the nameless but official looking Americans scurrying around Washington wondering what the f*ck is going on.