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Review: Green Zone (2010)

Green Zone (2010)

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Premise: Set in Iraq just after the United States had taken Baghdad, an army captain (Matt Damon) leads searches for weapons of mass destruction. As his assignments come up empty, the captain follows the trail of Iraq’s top general to discover the truth.

What Works: Green Zone is a very impressive action film. It delivers the kinds of chases and shootouts that will appeal to action genre fans but this is also a very smart picture that intertwines fact and fiction in a very judicious way. Green Zone makes deliberate use of actual events and applies them to its story, sometimes shaping them to fit the narrative but also allowing recent history to guide and enhance the plot. Those familiar with the early history of the war will recognize a lot of characters in Green Zone; Greg Kinnear plays a fictional Washington bureaucrat charged with rebuilding Iraq and he is a stand in for L. Paul Bremer, Raad Rawi plays a political refugee returning to Iraq with hopes of leading it much like Ahmed Chalabi, Yigal Naor is a character who is a composite of several high ranking Ba’athist military officials, and Amy Ryan’s role is also a composite of several American newspaper reporters. Green Zone’s fictional coding of the material allows it to present the story in a way that satisfies the demands of the action film and of dramatic storytelling while also giving an accurate impression of key events at the beginning of the war. Green Zone is further distinguished as an Iraq war film in that it is one of the only films to give the Iraqis a voice. Nearly all of the American films made so far about the war have viewed the conflict through the American experience and while that is still largely true in Green Zone, the film does give several Iraqi characters voice and volition.

What Doesn’t: The plotting of Green Zone is by no means air tight and the film relies on a number of coincidences, especially in the mad dash that is the film’s finale. Some may question the fictionalization of characters and events and it is a point worth discussing. As a piece of dramatic storytelling, the film does its job but as an adaptation of the nonfiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the fictionalization of the story could be viewed as disingenuous. 

Bottom Line: Green Zone is one of the best dramatic films about the war in Iraq. Although it would be helpful for viewers to screen the documentary No End in Sight before watching this film, Green Zone successfully adapts recent history into a very effective thriller.

Episode: #281 (March 21, 2010)