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By Brian Lafferty

March 14, 2010 (San Diego's East County) -- Green Zone is relentlessly exciting from beginning to end. We know there never were weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, which was the primary reason we went to war. We know what the outcome will be in the end, that there’s no turning back and we’re in it for the long haul, WMDs or not. Despite this common knowledge, screenwriter Brian Helgeland manages to incorporate a mystery that keeps us guessing until the very end in addition to exciting action sequences.


Green Zone opens with a bang – many of them, in fact – with the invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s top men scramble as the U.S. begins bombing Baghdad. We are then introduced to Matt Damon, playing a CIA operative whose duty is to find WMDs. When his team continues to come up empty, he questions the intel. With the help of an Iraqi native, he goes rogue and tries to find the truth while he’s hunted by the U.S. military.

Sound like The Bourne Identity? Perhaps on the surface, it does but it doesn’t matter. Director Paul Greengrass (who directed the last two movies in the Bourne series) delivers nothing but nonstop thrills during the entire 115 minute running time. Even the more mundane scenes have an aura of excitement. The movie is full of action and the filmmaker’s handling of it is impressive. I’ve seen a lot of shootouts and chase scenes both on foot and by car. They can become boring clichés if not done with some degree of originality. But not once did my eyes glaze over. No shootout or chase scene is gratuitous. The climax heaps on loads of excitement with a chase scene involving cars, choppers, and people on foot.

This movie is not afraid to be political. Having watched Green Zone, I was reminded of the “message movies” of Stanley Kramer. These films dealt with hot-button political and social issues, including nuclear war (On the Beach), creationism vs. evolution (Inherit the Wind), Nazism (Judgment at Nuremberg), and racism and interracial marriage (The Defiant Ones and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, respectively). Like these movies, the messages and political statements are clearly stated and almost in-your-face, as opposed to being subtly weaved in. It is by no means a mindless action movie. Not only does this film have a strong story and three-dimensional characters but it goes one step further: it has something to say and doesn’t tap-dance around it.

There is only one gripe I have with Green Zone and I feel it is required of me to warn those who are prone to motion sickness: Greengrass employs the “shaky-cam” (or, as some call it, the “queasy-cam”). Every scene is filmed handheld with a constant jerky motion. Couple that with action scene after action scene and it may make for an unpleasant experience for those who couldn’t stomach (no pun intended) Cloverfield or Rachel Getting Married in the theater. Fortunately, I’m immune to this but I still wish Greengrass would have simply kept the camera still. The constant movement almost undermines the tension and doesn’t add anything. I’m not saying it ruins the movie but it is unnecessary and distracting at times.

Green Zone will no doubt be unpopular with the pro-war crowd. After all, it denounces the Iraq War and the faulty premise that led to it. It is unapologetic in its statements without being on the nose. It tells us what we already know, that the U.S. government lied about the WMDs. It still, however, leaves room for a mystery, strong story and characters, and lots of exciting action. What more can you ask from an action movie?

A Universal Studios release.  Director:  Paul Greengrass.  Screenplay:  Brian Helgeland, based on the book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.  Original Music:  John Powell.  Cinematography:  Barry Ackroyd.  Cast:  Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Khalid Abdalla, and Jason Isaacs.  Runtime:  115 minutes.  Rated R.

Brian Lafferty welcomes letters at brian@eastcountymagazine.org. You can also follow him on Twitter:  @BrianLaff.

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