Review: “Green Zone”

Released during the same week “The Hurt Locker” swept up major Academy Awards for its harsh depiction of life on the Iraq War frontlines, “Green Zone” elects to take the opposite route of dramatization.

While coarse and unquestionably whirlwind, “Green Zone” should be viewed in the vein of a graphic novel adaptation, with its sniveling villains and primary colored view of wartime ethics. It’s entertainment first and foremost, with ham-fisted politics popping the mood far too often, sucking away a desired tempo of defiance to play a crude game of Middle East Stratego.

The year is 2003, and the Iraq War has commenced in full. For Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon), the job is simple: infiltrate enemy territory on the hunt for weapons of mass-destruction. However, the intelligence is failing, leaving Miller frustrated and eager to find alternate means of proof.

Against the wishes of Special Intelligence stooge Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), Miller seeks out assistance from CIA chief Gordon Brown (Brendan Gleeson), who’s sympathetic to Miller’s concerns. Sent off with troublesome translator Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), Miller sneaks past enemy lines searching for a secret Iraqi informant codenamed “Magellan,” who might hold the key to the developing WMD mystery.

To set the record straight, “Green Zone” is not “Jason Bourne 4,” despite what the marketing efforts from Universal want you to believe. Reteaming here is actor Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, somewhat fresh off their “Bourne Supremacy” and “Bourne Ultimatum” one-two punch, now focusing their laser-like attention to the concerns of the Middle East, with the book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” as their inspiration.

“Green Zone” is an Iraq War film as much as “G.I. Joe” concerned military strategy, using the enduring conflict solely as a backdrop to pure drama, pulling what they need from past headlines, but primarily sticking to an action formula to entice hindquarters into seats.

To his credit, Greengrass manufactures a heated core of dissatisfaction for his picture, with Damon doing a commendable job scratching out stoic levels of frustration as Miller grunts around Baghdad, gradually coming to the realization that his country was either fed incorrect intel or flat-out lying about the infamous WMDs; a fruitless witch hunt that’s costing lives of innocent American soldiers.

The nobility of Miller’s cause is a ripe one, but the dimensions are clearly lacking from the screenplay by Brian Helgeland, which delivers the basics of the conflict solely in black and white. In “Green Zone,” Miller’s the hero, Poundstone is the government fiend, and Iraq is a powder keg about to explode.

The rigidity of the cartoon script actually comes in handy for the first two acts of “Green Zone,” which observes Miller storming through the land, tangoing with a pushover journalist (played by Amy Ryan), and using Freddy as his key to enter sectors of the city off-limits to Americans.

Miller’s a champion and Greengrass cherishes the fighting spirit with a chaotic screen energy that takes his love for the vile shaky-cam and sets it loose on the battlefield, with the audience allowed only mere glimpses of clarity as the soldiers engage what they think is the enemy. Greengrass has a special way with timing, and “Green Zone” sprints out of the gate in a thrilling manner that buttresses the Mickey Mouse political agenda of the picture without calling too much attention to the smooth edges of allegiance.

Once the film goes into underline mode to keep every possible audience member engaged, “Green Zone” begins to wear out its welcome, with performances losing their ambiguity and dialogue that grows ridiculously transparent as the divide between honor and war is thickly defined.

The picture finally gives up in the extended climax, where the screen melts down to a blur of images and a cacophony of sound effects, on the prowl for a purpose. Greengrass shows off his most grotesque use of shaky-cam in the final reel, a demented overkill of a closer that boils Miller’s quest down to an unsightly flipbook of meaningless frames.

While Miller isn’t fitted for a cape and tights in “Green Zone,” Greengrass doesn’t take the opportunity to investigate the character’s general disturbance. Assembling something resembling a happy ending also seems ill-conceived, considering the film is one long ode to futility. It charges like a rhino, but “Green Zone” doesn’t dive into the dramatic deep end, preferring to splash up a storm in the kiddie pool. A dizzying, incomprehensible kiddie pool.