GREEN ZONE (2010)
Sigh. Not good. So not good. The once unbeatable team that brought us the Bourne films, Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass, has produced something Shakespearean—-“all sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Noise does not content make. Once again, we are confronted with the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. We believe. We believe. But tell us something we don’t know. The film, based on the far superior book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, does not do this excellent book justice. Chandrasekaran chronicles a betrayal of the American people who put their faith in their government and were witnesses to one of the great displays of incompetence in contemporary history.
The story is a familiar one: the little people must pay and the big people get paid off. Matt Damon is a little person, “Roy Miller,” an idealistic soldier who has drunk the Kool Aid of the necessity of the Iraq War. As a result, he is desperately searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction. The story was “ripped from the headlines.” Indeed, so ripped it was that Matt Damon’s soldier could have read the newspapers a few weeks later and learned the answers. Bland-faced, Greg Kinnear represents the Bush administration and all its ill-informed political flacks, operating out of their depth in Iraq. Kinnear is not a force of evil, however, he is merely being expedient and political. He is what he is: a cipher. Punching him is like punching oatmeal. He is the man who wasn’t there, hiding at the midlevel, unremarkable and unreachable.
Although Greengrass was supposedly fueled by a sense of outrage, he actually lets the neo-conservative fabulists off easy. The most horrifying part of Chandrasekaran’s book is not the absence of weapons of mass destruction but the sheer incompetence and delusional behavior of the occupying forces. I was amused to realize that the center of the “Green Zone” was the “Republican Palace” (referring to the Republican Guard). Despite the vast responsibilities of “liberating” Iraq, underage Republican staffers were rewarded with a summer job and a blip on their resumés. Like their elders, the low level operatives were attempting to run a destroyed and demoralized nation, which was invaded by a hostile and belligerent force in search of something that did not exist. In this film, we get no sense of the hubris of the American government. We get no sense of the overwrought décor of Sadaam’s palace, teaming with irreverent American soldiers. We get no sense of the suffering of the Iraqi people. Green Zone lets the politicians off lightly and sets up a mystery tale about something that is no longer a mystery and sends the audience on a diversionary course.
We are asked to believe that the CIA is a force of good and, as such, the organization, or one of its operatives (Brendan Gleeson), would work with a lowly, untrained, off the reservation soldier. This soldier has not read Tennyson and has never heard of the “theirs is not to reason why” part and does not like the “theirs is to do and die” part, so off he goes. Careening around a strange city, accompanied by an astonishingly convenient interpreter, Damon manages to locate the mastermind behind the insurgency and the only voice of truth, a revered Iraqi general on the run. There are no weapons. There were never any weapons, but no one in a war-hungry administration wanted to know the truth. We are asked to assume that this Iraqi general is the only one who knew of the amazing vanishing weapons. To silence him, Blackwater-like assassins, working for the government, against the CIA, shoot the Iraqi general. And the conclusion we are supposed to reach is that the administration disbanded the Iraqi Army because the leaders knew there were no WMD. I think. And the CIA knew the truth and used the soldier, Roy Miller, to rock the boat. I think.
The real story was so much better than anything Greengrass concocted. Regardless of the intentions of this film, however admirable they might be, the result undermines the message. Roy Miller and his Interpreter are Robinson Crusoe and his Man Friday. I can only assume that Greengrass was unwitting in his colonialist viewpoint that the imperialists would always have one-legged accomplices as sidekicks. The superiority of the West over the disabled East is underscored as the limping Interpreter attaches himself to the Invader and happily saves the life of Roy Miller. And all for no discernable reward, other than, “I love my country.” The actual culpability of the Bush administration in a War of Choice is elided in the end. The villains are the natives who supported Sadaam and the blame is laid at the doorstep of the Iraqis. There is a Chalabi-type pretender to the throne who is dethroned due to the Arab habit of arguing loudly. Clearly the Arabs needed “our” help to show them how to do democracy. Thanks to plain Roy Miller, the Americans can emerge from this film, honor intact, with ideals firmly in place.
It has been said that films about the Iraq War are unpopular because the was is unpopular. Possibly, but it could be that the films about the Iraq War are unpopular because they are simply bad films. Except for The Hurt Locker.
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette
The Arts Blogger