Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Green Zone

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Produced by:
Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Lloyd Levin
Paul Greengrass

Written by: Brian Helgeland

Based on: Imperial Life In The Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Matt Damon
Greg Kinnear
Brendan Gleeson
Amy Ryan
Khalid Abdalla
Jason Isaacs

Music by: John Powell

Cinematography by: Barry Ackroyd

Editing by: Christopher Rouse

Relativity Media
Working Title Films

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date: March 12, 2010

Running time: 110 minutes (bout less than 100 if you include the lengthy credits)

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $100 million

Gross revenue: $94, 862, 344

Wahay, I successfully survived another year without any freak accidents resulting in my untimely death. Anyone else who has managed to do so can give themselves a pat on the back, those unsuccessful... well, my condolences, because you can't pat yourselves on the back. At least not without some great effort on the part of a live human being fighting against rigor mortis. Time goes by so quickly don't you think? This is my last review of 2010, although more reviews of movies from this year will come before the Oscars, but it's something to talk about. So, in conclusion, well done for surviving and a (hopefully) Happy New Year!

So, after having had the film for about two or three months, I have finally got down to reviewing Green Zone. This is a film that I personally was really looking forward to. With Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon together again dealing critically with a topic that I have a personal vendetta against, the 2003’ Iraq War, this was something that could not be missed. Interestingly, the film has got mixed reviews and suffered much criticism due to the political standpoint it has taken. Kyle Smith, film reviewer and former US military veteran, labelled the film "slander" and "anti-American." In the UK, The Daily Mail criticised the film as "a preachy political thriller disguised as an action flick." On the other end of the spectrum, Michael Moore has spoke out defending the film, posting on his Twitter account "I can't believe this film got made. It's been stupidly marketed as an action film. It is the most HONEST film about the Iraq War made by Hollywood."

March 19, 2003: General Mohammad Al-Rawi (Yigal Naor) meets with his aides to discuss the US Invasion of Iraq. Four weeks later, we meet Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon), who has been coming across empty warehouses believed to have been housing WMDs. At a debriefing, he questions as to whether or not the intelligence source is valid, and Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), a CIA officer based in the Middle East informs Miller that the next warehouse 'storing' WMDs is empty. Meanwhile, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) is welcoming back Iraqi political exile Ahmed Zubaidi (Raad Rawi), and is being questioned by Wall Street Journal correspondent Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) on an intelligence source by the codename of 'Magellan.' As Miller encounters an Iraqi who calls himself 'Freddie' (Khalid Abd-Allah), there seems to be a conspiracy at the back-end of all this.

To start with the good regarding Green Zone, positive words must be given to Barry Ackryod. By no means is it an easy task to shoot an Iraq War movie, but Ackroyd takes all of his tricks from shooting The Hurt Locker to Green Zone and does a fine job. However, whereas The Hurt Locker employs shots that are seen from above, taking an 'eye-of-God' approach, Green Zone for the most part (some terrific crane shots are in the film) remains firmly on the ground. In this sense, we follow Miller not as observer but participant. Also, during film action sequences I have a tendency to reference the way Greengrass' films are shot and how most others using the shaky-DV approach are poor pretenders. Ackroyd thankfully is someone who knows how to use this approach while the audience is able to tell what is going on. Also, Green Zone is not an 'action film', but instead a dialogue-heavy film that is more of a conspiracy thriller set in a warzone. Ackroyd succeeds in making conversations between people seem far more interesting through the way in which he shoots them. The Special Relationship proved earlier in the year that he can 'shoot' people, and Green Zone shows that he is a fine cinematographer doing some great work.

Another aspect of the film worth crediting is the work of editor Christopher Rouse. Rouse is key to why much of Paul Greengrass' films work. His frenetic editing on The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum lend perfectly to the works. Here, knowing that the setting is different and that the film more talk than action, Rouse possesses good awareness and keeps the editing on a leash. In a film like this, it is important that we are not distracted by mistakes and Rouse clearly knows this. Fortunately, although the film does possess quick cutting that befits Greengrass down and dirty cinema verite style, it is the choices Rouse makes that display his talents. Knowing when to cut is as important as how you cut. Rouse therefore, while not displaying as much innovative editing as in his previous work, gives more controlled work, appropriate considering the pacing of the film.

This brings me to my final pros regarding Green Zone. I must congratulate Paul Greengrass for having the film go down the direction that it does. Marketing has made this film look is basically any other action/thriller, with the Empire magazine quote on the front "Bourne Goes Epic." Well, Jason Bourne it ain't. As mentioned, most of the film involves conversations between people. Also, while political opinions do not necessarily make a good film, at least Greengrass has the guts to take a stand and portray a stance that, while not being a popularly maintained view, needs to be out there in the open. It is a challenging political thriller that under the guise of an action film has an important message. The overall tone in which this message is portrayed is not overly preachy, forcing the opinions down your throat, so well done to Greengrass for that. It is a shame that films taking a stand often don't get made, but Greengrass has succeeded in doing so in a way that is entertaining. Also, it is important that the Iraqi side of things is represented and this is handled well. Finally, Greg Kinnear gives a very good performance as the US Pentagon Special Intelligence man Clark Poundstone.

There is much to like about Green Zone. It is both a well-shot and well-edited film, Greengrass makes important decisions, deciding to make a challenging work instead of making a simple balls-to-the-wall action/thriller. However, there are problems that dig gouges in what could have been a really great film. For starters, on the surface level none of the actors are working to the level that they could have been. Matt Damon is a fine leading man who, while doing what the job descriptions asks well, does not advance to the next level and give a great performance. Also, Amy Ryan, who gave a great performance in Gone Baby Gone, is severely under-utilised in a role that cannot help but remind me of the similarly dull role Jennifer Connolly played in Blood Diamond. On the same note, Jason Isaacs is under-utilised as Major Briggs. While sporting a fearsome moustache, Isaacs is given little time to deliver a good performance, even if he does look pretty badass. Oh, yes and Hello! All of the actors, including Kinnear, give performances that are 'real-people' performances, problematic considering the characters are written 'symbolically.’

This is the fault of the screenwriter Brian Helgeland. When it comes down to most of a film's problems, the script is usually a good source to find them. Helgeland has in the past displayed, through work such as L.A. Confidential and Mystic River, that he knows how to write scripts about people with very complicated issues. Here, while the topic matter is nailed spot-on, he fails to deal with the most important thing in a script, and that is writing good characters. Each and every (and I mean 'every'!) character in the film is a stock character that could have been a mannequin given a costume. That is not to say that these aren't talented actors, but actors cannot act without a good script! Give them a complex, three-dimensional character with proper emotion and it will work wonders for your film. Also, the plot is incredibly predictable. Personally, I had figured the film out before the half-way point. No spoilers or anything, but put it this way, things do not look good and are not good! Yes, maybe it helps that I know the topic matter, but at least make an effort to disguise it with a proper well-written film that might actually have me second-guessing myself. Saying that, structurally, while nuts-and-bolts, the film is for the most part pretty solid. The script makes the right moves at the right moments, until the end of the film, which finishes at a point that is wholly inappropriate. The film is a build-up to a big reveal, but the climax is rushed and the audience do not have enough time to process the whole thing, and in the end, we are left deflated. The ending comes, and the arms go up in the air, a large sigh being forced out in the way two hands crush a whoopee cushion: this is bad, bad, bad writing!

Green Zone is in many senses a highly admirable film. Barry Ackroyd knows how to shoot, and does so, once again catering to Paul Greengrass' cinema verite style. Also, editor Christopher Rouse proves himself a versatile editor, restraining himself from the frenetic approach he is famous for, and instead doing a solid job of letting people see the action. However, he does do a fine balancing act, giving us doses of the freneticism when he deems it necessary. Finally, it is a credit to the film that Paul Greengrass does not pull any punches and goes for a political position that while controversial, does represent an opinion of large numbers of people under the guise of an action/thriller. However, the acting in the film is not anything special and is approached in the wrong manner, though it could be argued that this is primarily the fault of the script. Brian Helgeland writes a script that, while doing a good job of subject matter, approaches his characters wrong, creating symbolic instead of realistic Also, it is highly predictable and lacks a forceful structure, with an ending that suggests that he simply gave up. Dare I say that the film, although clearly not, does feel like a propaganda film, with its overtly simplistic characters and plot. Nevertheless, while inherently flawed, Green Zone is a very good film worth your time.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired.

P.S. This has been a bitch of a film to write a review for. I started on December 30th and finally have finished it. Yeah, I know, I didn't make it for new year, but I'll just ask all of you nice people out there to forgive me for not meeting deadlines (again!). Finally, the film has some of the year’s best sound. It will likely get a nomination in my year-end awards. To be franks, I simply forgot to mention it, and before I post this it is appropriate to point it out. Toodles!

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