Ham-fisted stonewalling aka political expediency plagues a soldier in “The Green Zone,” directed by Paul Greengrass, written by Brian Helgeland, who wonders why his WMD disposal unit receives useless intelligence. Providing a plausible explanation for why we entered our current war, the movie is a pisser, a downer, a hair-puller; what little faith you might have in our political leadership dive bombs to less than zero.
Employing an escalating cat and mouse technique to reveal the existence and unraveling of a high-level cover up of a significant, tragic lie that validated the shock and awe campaign of Gulf War Two, Greengrass demonstrates how history begins with one person doing one thing which subsequently results in the loss and disruption of tens of thousands of lives and the disbursement of hundreds of millions of dollars. The initial lie (it involves a pre-war meeting in Jordan between an influential Iraqi general and an obsequious American go-between) gets microwaved into foreign policy. It affects intelligence gathering (the CIA gets compartmentalized on a need-to-know basis), it affects the men and women responsible for the disposal of the WMDs (soldiers die on wild goose chases), it affects the lives of the non-military Iraqi population (why are you here?) and, mostly, it really pisses off the Iraqi Army that disbanded but didn’t lay down their arms.
With the exception of Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon), the head of the disposal unit, and Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), head of the CIA Baghdad bureau chief, the Americans come across as imperialist wankers running roughshod over a country’s economy, culture, resources, and lives. Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), who’s in charge of the installation of Ahmed Zubadi (Raad Rawi), a puppet ruler, embodies Ugly American arrogance, not just conniving to propagate the existence of a fictitious Deep Throat who confirmed the existence of WMDs, but assassinate those (Americans included) who threatened to expose the chicanery and malfeasance.
Greengrass clearly wants to ratchet up the American-inspired Us and Them mentality that permeated the post-911 global climate. He got us to despise one set of characters (Poundstone, his hit man Major Briggs – Jason Isaacs, even Lawrie Dayne - Amy Ryan, the Wall Street Journal reporter who disseminated the lies to the world). He got us admire another set (Miller, Freddie - Khalid Abdalia, the poor schlep who got drawn into the morass as Miller’s translator, Brown, and even General Al-Rawi -Yigal Naor - who, in spite of his intent to demolish the occupying forces, was nonetheless set up in the Mother of All Deceptions).
But in spite of his success in telling a convincing, compelling story, in spite of his creation of characters that embody the good and bad in the war on terrorism, too much of Greengrass’s plotting is contrived. It’s absolutely improbable that a CIA station chief is just going to roll over at the behest of a well-connected pencil pusher who wears suits and otherwise looks composed in abominable heat. The character of the Wall Street Journal correspondent is problematic: the movie’s narrative arc hinges on whether the lie is going to get broadcast to the world. Doesn’t she doggedly question her sole source? The lie gets out but in a powder puff, anticlimactic manner. As a result, the resolution comes across as forced. Moreover, we’d like to have seen the despicable Poundstone, if not get blown to bits, at least suffer public humiliation or comeuppance. Too bad this otherwise well-wrought film ran out of steam at the end, just when the going got good.