Thursday, March 11, 2010

Green Zone

Bourne Again

The final scene of the film has the camera pan up to a desert landscape with an oil refinery, suggesting that the real reason for the US led invasion of Iraq back in 2003, was not just solely because Saddam Hussein had to be ousted, but in a way to secure the supply of a vital resource that currently fuels the world's economy. Conspiracy theorists had their field day when the world got sold on the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, and I too was one of those who had stayed up late to witness then US Secretary of State Colin Powell deliver those damning evidence, only to receive that embarrassing slap on the face when it turned out to be one elaborate hoax.

Wherefore art thou WMD? becomes the premise of Green Zone, upon which a political thriller cum action film got fused together in Paul Greengrass' signature technique of documentary-styled, shaky camera-work to elicit a sense of voyeuristic reality, and to bring us back to four weeks into the Shock and Awe campaign of 2003, with the US army frantically searching for WMDs to prove to a jittery world that the decision to invade was the right call. Written by Brian Helgeland (who wrote screenplays for films like Payback, Man on Fire and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3), his story as inspired by Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone") again crafts a never-say-die alpha male in Chief Warrant Officer Miller, played by Matt Damon who has shed those kilos from The Informant, who with his platoon, is getting increasing frustrated by the quality of intel that led them on missions to locate WMDs, only to become wild geese on a chase around the desert land.

And it is his quest for the truth that we see him question his superiors, and decide to break ranks to do a little investigative legwork of his own with a few good loyal men, only to discover the deep divisions within whom he thought were the good guys who had put country before self. With each faction from the various agencies such as DoD's Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) and CIA's veteran Middle East analyst Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), all displaying multiple levels of incompetence, their innate nature of covering up their dirty deeds, and all too eager to gain one up against the other, no wonder everyone just can't seem to get their act together, and we are where we are today. Even the press doesn't seem to be too independent this time round, suggesting that reporters make strange bedfellows with men in monkey suits.

I had enjoyed how Helgeland weaves in plenty of real life parallels into the story, such as the puppet leader "chosen" by the West for his willingness to comply rather than a leader from within, and in some ways, to showcase an admission into the kind of logistical screw ups and political missteps that had taken place in Iraq, only because their aftermath to the invasion drew up a blank in rebuilding plans, exposing a strategy that is sorely lacking in being well thought through. And as a jibe to how the US has turned soft and lacking in moral authority, there's a scene that stood right out, that amidst the extreme chaos of a military operation and death, comes the kind of decadence from within the established safe havens of Baghdad, making you wonder if you've stumbled upon Beverly Hills instead.

The marketing folks have blared their trumpets at the collaborative return of Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, who together have breathed life into the Bourne franchise, and while they had debunked the rumours of another Bourne outing, Green Zone reunites the two in delivering yet another edge of your seat political thriller, with an action component featuring the kind of military hardware that would make Michael Bay envious, from Humvees to Black Hawks, showcasing drool-worthy technology and plenty of FIBUA fighting done Greengrass style that it really does seem that you're put right smack within the heat of the action like a planted journalist, up too close to where the action is.

But despite all the military bravado, the other merit I'd see in the film is the portrayal of the character Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), an ordinary Iraqi whose limp is testament that he had served his country in the Iraq-Iran war. Being unwittingly caught up in the action and given the job as the de facto translator, his purpose in the film is none other than to say "Yankees Go Home" at every opportunity, since the soldiers are unwelcome, and their presence serve little purpose other than to introduce chaos unseen outside of the Zone. Perhaps Freddy has the best line of all in the film, a reminder not to meddle needlessly into the affairs of another sovereign country.

In the end, Green Zone comes off as a curious reminder that war is justifiable only for a proper and just reason, since it inevitably involves casualties, especially civilian ones. But as already seen from history, rationales can be swayed by power presentations, heartfelt persuasions, and the simple belief that one is doing the right thing for the greater good, which comes with collateral damage. This film serves as the perfect balance in being thought-provoking, and one for the military action fan. Recommended!

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