At last a movie has wrestled with the bare bones of this puzzle.

Green Zone

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            "Green Zone" is a very good movie that asks and answers sharp questions that have eluded resolution in the public forum. How much intelligence about weapons of mass destruction did the Bush administration have in its hands when it escalated the Iraq war in 2003? How much of what they had was accurate? How much of it was manipulated to justify the administration's determination to eliminate Sadaam Hussein? At last a movie has wrestled with the bare bones of this puzzle.

            Paul Greengrass, who directed "United 93" and the Bourne Identity movies, is an action movie specialist who is supremely capable of holding an audience in his clenched fist for two hours. He has constructed a taut story powered by the violent street fighting in Iraq where Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) leads his men in a fruitless search for WMD. After coming up empty for the third dangerous time, Miller begins the search for answers among his superiors. Why is there such a disconnect between the intelligence and what they are seeing on the ground? Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) is the visiting administration man sent from Washington to bring democracy to a country that has not asked for it.

            Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) is a CIA man with 30 years experience in the Middle East. He and Poundstone represent the traditional friction between CIA and the White House. When Chief Miller makes contact with the experienced CIA man, the movie flows into a search not for the non-existent WMD, but for the manipulators of the misleading intelligence.

            The casting director gives us the gift of actors who don't look alike. The Americans are an appropriately motley mix. Both they and the Iraqis come off as individuals, sparing us that "who is that guy" feeling so common to action movies. Never once breaking a smile, Matt Damon gives a performance that is at once spare and driven and entirely devoid of histrionics. This holds true also of photographer Barry Ackroyd's (The Hurt Locker) filming of the war. Scenes of civilian casualties and torture by the Americans are disturbing and provocative, but are not used as building blocks for an ideological case.

            The strength of the movie lies in diligent research. The filmmakers have constructed carefully the landscape of the street war and even their fictionalized story appears to hew closely to the facts that have already been published and substantiated. While we are speculating about all this, we wonder how a brutal seven years war could have been started, escalated, and fought without the consent of Congress. Would the reality of the WMD debacle have come to light in that debate? We can only wish, after absorbing the threads of duplicity that run through both the facts and the fiction, that the big questions will be resolved one day in the public forum. For the moment, both history buffs and lovers of action movies are likely to be riveted by "Green Zone."


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