I’ve read articles and reviews describing this movie as Bourne-in-Iraq and such, I suppose because of the Matt Damon-Paul Greengrass connection. I don’t think that’s an accurate comparison, for one thing, unlike the Bourne movies where it’s basically Jason Bourne alone versus the rest of the wold, Damon’s character in Green Zone, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller is always accompanied by members of his unit, even after he went off the reservation and disobeyed his superior’s order. But more importantly, Green Zone is a movie where the CIA is one of the good guys. Yup, that’s right, the CIA is on the side of the angels here, working with Miller to find the truth about the existence of weapon of mass destructions in Iraq, fighting the evil Pentagon and Deprtment of Defense, personified by Greg Kinnear’s character. Well, take that, Jason Bourne! Of course we are only talking about the CIA station in Baghdad and it’s head (the amazing Brendan Gleeson) being the good guys, not George Tenet and the rest of the folks back at Langley, but still, I was shocked that (spoiler alert!) Brendan Gleeson isn’t unmasked as some sort of evil mastermind at the end of the movie. So he really is just trying to do the right thing! Shocking, I know.
The movie takes place in the early days of the American occupation of Iraq in 2003. Miller is heading a unit that is tasked to find Iraq’s WMD, based on intelligence provided by a top-secret high-ranking Iraqi source, codenamed Magellan. Supposedly, Magellan provided information to the US government (but not the CIA, apparently even Brendan Gleeson’s character is in the dark about Magellan’s identity) about Iraq’s WMD program, complete with locations where the weapons are being produced. But when Miller and his team went to these locations, they found nothing, no WMD’s, which causes Miller to question the reliability of the source. Suffice to say that in the end, Miller found out that the problem is not that the source isn’t reliable, it’s that Kinnear’s character completely reversed what the source told him about the existence of Iraq’s WMD program in order to support the case for war. There’s also a subplot about a Judith Miller-like reporter who acted like a government stenographer before the war, writing articles about the dangers of Iraq’s WMD based on information provided by Kinnear’s character without doing any independent verification of her own (except in the movie she works for The Wall Street Journal instead of The New York Times, I wonder why?).
The movie has some of Greengrass’ trademark shaky camera, but because I watched this on DVD instead of the cinema like the Bourne movies, I did not have the same headache-inducing reaction. Matt Damon is one of the few A-list Hollywood actors who has the authority and gravitas to play a character like Miller. Back in his Good Will Hunting and Mr Ripley’s days, “authority” and “gravitas” aren’t words I ever thought I would associate with Damon, but he’s expanded his range a lot since then. Sadly, Amy Ryan is wasted as the journalist, she’s mostly just required to stand around looking alternately impatient and remorseful. I wish the movie had given her more to do.