“I came here to find weapons and save lives,” sighs Matt Damon in Green Zone, “and I haven’t found shit!”
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s no surprise to us that Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller keeps coming up short in his quest to locate the weapons of mass destruction he’s been dispatched to find in the immediate aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq.
But director Paul Greengrass isn’t dealing with Now. His eye is on Then, plunging us headlong into the chaotic and confused early days of the 2003 occupation with the same kinetic velocity as a Jason Bourne car chase.
It’s a high-risk strategy that could have turned Green Zone – named after the heavily fortified region of Baghdad where the US forces set up shop – into a virtual period piece, rendered obsolete by subsequent events. As in Bloody Sunday or United 93, however, Greengrass concentrates on a specific situation and lets the context take care of itself.
It’s easy to see Miller as tragically deluded, but soldiers like him were not to know they were misinformed seven years ago. Indeed, if there’s a link between this film and the director’s previous collaborations with Damon, it’s in its focus on a hero doing his utmost to prevail without being in full possession of the facts.
Frustrated by his official duties, Miller decides to pursue a different objective: a still-at-large Ba’athist commander he stumbles upon with the help of a local. This quickly puts him at odds with oily Pentagon man Greg Kinnear and Special Forces commando Jason Isaacs, facilitators of a conspiracy to conceal the real reason for war from the American public.
Damon’s breakneck race to apprehend his target involves a tense house raid, an undercover op inside a military prison and an explosive finale redolent of Black Hawk Down. What drives him onwards, though, is his indignation at being lied to by the supposed ‘good guys’ – the same thing, you suspect, that motivated Greengrass to make the film in the first place.