rating: 3

America's misguided war on terror in the streets of Iraq over the last several years has proven to be fertile ground for several gritty box office failures. Out of these films, The Hurt Locker finally broke through last week to earn a hefty payday, if only in Oscar gold. It managed such widespread acclaim thanks to sharp, stunning direction and a script that played the middle ground with a story that didn't take a clear position on the war. In Green Zone, director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland attempt to circumvent the box office failures of previous Iraq war films by grafting a spy subplot onto the conflict, making the film more or less Jason Bourne in the desert. To that end, Greengrass employs Bourne himself, Matt Damon, as warrant officer Roy Miller, who is leading one group of soldiers through the streets of Iraq looking for weapond of mass destruction. As they hop from lead to lead, it suddenly becomes clear that the intelligence they're receiving leads into dead ends, and men are dying needlessly. So Miller takes matters into his own hands to discover the truth. The film is shot in typical Greengrass style, with a camera that never remains motionless at any time, regardless of the events taking place onscreen. Characters in a Greengrass film could be talking about the morning coffee, and the camera would revolve and shimmy wildly like it was an action sequence. This gives some dynamic fluidity to action sequences in the streets of Iraq, but it quickly becomes annoying in the briefing sections, which are filled with shock zooms for no reason. Fortunately, Greengrass knows how to edit this footage well, and the technique mostly works here. Matt Damonhas been playing subtle variations of the same American Boy Scout for years, and he's become very good at it. His agreeably masculine features and believable delivery make him a perfect actor for this sort of role, and Damon does suitable work here as the dedicated, honest, and rational Miller. The rest of the cast mostly disappears into the backdrop, except for Khalid Abdalla as "Freddy", an Iraqi who helps the Americans find an important member of Saddam's crumbling infrastructure. He has one of the film's few memorable lines. Greengrass and Helgeland sustain a fair amount of tension in the first half of the film. Opposers of the Iraq war effort will find a few juicy moments to savor, particularly a briefing session where Damon's Miller dissenting views are shot down by an officer who simply states, "Democracy is messy." Unfortunately, the film quickly devolves into a spy melodrama, with Miller eventually consorting with the media to blow the lid off the failed WMD plot. It's not historically accurate, and one can only guess that it's there to add spice to the story and keep it from feeling repetitive and stale. As The Hurt Locker showed, films about the Iraq war can be handled truthfully and bluntly, without the trappings of Hollywood spy thrillers to propel their plots. I suspect that Greengrass' film will suffer in comparison so soon after Hurt Locker's huge win at the Oscars. It's a shame that Green Zone is sabotaged by its own WMD - the thriller cliche - that will sink it in the eyes of people so enthralled by a better and more genuine film about a complex military operation.
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All you need to know is that I love movies and baseball. I write about both on a temporary medium known as the Internet. Twitter: @rayderousse or @unfilteredlens1 Go St. Louis Cardinals!