Taut, grim war thriller

2010-05-31 00:00

THE Iraq war has played itself out on our TV screens for so long that it feels like a constant background to our lives and arguments. In this seemingly familiar arena, Green Zone presents an intrigue that revolves around the story of weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs as they tend to get referred to.

Matt Damon is Warrant Officer Roy Miller, the leader of a special squad assigned to track down the infamous WMDs, the pretext America used to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. Their significance, as we all know from real life, is not inconsiderable. Miller and his men work hard following leads, capturing prisoners, getting into firefights trying to find them, but every time they come up empty-handed. With time Miller starts to smell a rat. We know they didn’t exist, that a campaign of military and political misinformation on both sides of the Atlantic manufactured them to underpin an act of international aggression. Miller, of course, doesn’t know this. Initially, he simply believes someone is trying to throw him off the scent, in other words, to steer him away from the real thing. It wouldn’t occur to him that he is a cog in a colossal lie.

His pursuit of ghosts takes him through the wreckage of Baghdad, the bombed-out streets and buildings that are home to people trying to rebuild their lives while fighting an invader and their own internal enemies. One of the things that is made painfully apparent is how brutal the process is of wrenching power away from those who have it. No one lets go easily, not even in ideal circumstances. The messiness, pain and grief seem unimaginable even though they are a daily feature of the news.

Miller eventually works out who among the bad guys on the American side are the worst, and for once it’s not the CIA. He’s no Rambo, so he’s not about to start a firestorm, but he’s determined to do the right thing and get the truth out. To do this he does end up being shot at by both sides.

Loyalties are hard to arouse when the cast offers few clear-cut pointers, and when the historical situation is such a mess anyway. But director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum) manages through the momentum of the chase to keep the level of excitement high. There’s little respite, either from the pace or the grimness of the spectacle of war, and it’s easy to forget that one actually knows the outcome from the very beginning.

The details are what’s riveting.

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