March 23, 2010

300 Words About: Green Zone

"Look, man, we had to know this would flop after DiCaprio couldn't even carry Body of Lies. At least we got paid up front, right?"

Green Zone is like Glenn Beck, or Keith Olbermann, or even Jon Stewart. It's incredibly loud, incredibly loose-tongued, and incredibly lacking in moderation or nuance of any kind. Incredibly, Universal Pictures wagered $100+ million that cash-strapped audiences would want to see cable news-styled hysterics within the context of one of the most unpopular film genres of our time: the Iraq War movie (remember that The Hurt Locker is the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner in history).

Granted, Universal did have the "Bourne in Baghdad" angle to lure audiences (how has no one made a mash-up trailer yet?), and Paul Greengrass previously directed United 93, one of the best films of the last decade. But as much as Green Zone had on its side in terms of star power, nothing can make up for an extremely dated and painfully retread screenplay by Brian Helgeland - one that overflows with Big Grand Statements, both said and unsaid by its caricatures.

I figured something was wrong when Universal kept pushing the release date for Green Zone later and later (eventually past the 12/31/09 Oscar eligibility deadline), but wow, I haven't been this disappointed since about 10 minutes ago, when I saw that Brian Helgeland also wrote the upcoming Robin Hood reboot starring Russell Crowe.

To make matters worse, the puffy dialogue is accompanied by tired acting and tedious action, including a night-time chase and shootout that is comical in its chaos. Directors continue to push the envelope these days to make viewers understand the disorienting dizziness of combat, but the average moviegoer will just become bored out of confusion - if they aren't focused on keeping their lunch down. Unlike Greengrass' other films, where the action takes place in a controlled environment, Green Zone's wild third act is a sprawling mess. But maybe we don't have to get all the details, since this is a contrived story about a contrived war.

Green Zone was reportedly inspired by Rajiv Chandrasekaran's well-received book, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City", but even though I haven't read it I can say with some confidence that Helgeland likely simplified the most important material and embellished the most sensational. Much like the case for the war, actually. Was that the trick here? That moviegoers were duped into thinking Green Zone was a meaningful film in the same way that Americans were duped into thinking Iraq was a worthy fight?

Could be, but the difference is that the intelligence surrounding Green Zone isn't faulty, just absent. This is a movie that wears its liberal politics on its sleeve like Republicans wear flag pins on their lapels. It's a movie obsessed with scapegoating and stereotyping, not debating or discovering. Indeed, it claims that it wants to discuss the war but then it just ends up shouting to be heard over any other viewpoint.

As I said, it's like a cable news-show host.


  1. "At least we got paid up front"

    Lol. This film looks generic. They didn't had the Bourne in Baghdad angle. They were hoping to draft off of that fan base but it didn't happen. Repo Men opened at $6 Million. That film REALLY bombed in theater.

    Great call on United 93. Good film. Loved the fact that some of the actual people played themselves.

    Say it isn't so about Robin Hood. Crap (to quote Hellboy).

  2. Sorry about some of my spelling in the comment above.

  3. Ever since Greengrass went Hollywood, he has made one stinker after another. He's ruined his career and, sadly, my opinion of him.

  4. Film-Book I'm not seeing any spelling mistakes...which makes me worry a bit about my own spelling.

    Anyway, you're right - what they didn't understand is that people wanted to see Bourne in Baghdad, not somebody who acts like Bourne in Baghdad. As soon as people picked up on the politics of this movie they fled theaters. $24 million to date? It's likely to be the most financially disastrous Iraq War movie yet.

    Robin Hood...well I've successfully avoided trailers but I'm hooked based on the Gladiator similarities and my nostalgia for the early 90's version. Sounds like the script will be terrible, though.

    Marilyn, here's where I admit I haven't seen Bloody Sunday, which I presume you would consider Greengrass' last pre-Hollywood movie. In fact it wasn't until United 93 and the Bourne movies that he was even on my radar (no surprise, right?), so I'm afraid I've missed what others could consider his best work. Would you recommend others aside from Bloody Sunday?

    Also, his next movie sounds like it will feature much less shaky-cam action. Of course by that time everything will be in 3D, though. Uggh....

  5. Omagh. He had three films in a row (Omagh, Bloody Sunday, United 93) that were the pinnacle of filmmaking. He has a real gift for providing watchable, substantial films about tragedies, and he quickly became one of my favorite writer/directors. An Iraq War film should have played to his strengths, but alas, he's ceded his powers to those who only want to exploit them for a quick buck. I keep praying he'll turn his back on franchise fortune and go back to what he does so well.

  6. Isn't it sad how many films about tragedies are not watchable or substantial? Well if either Omagh or Bloody Sunday is as earnest as United 93 then I should be so lucky to see them soon. If only to get the taste of Green Zone out of my mouth.

    Two other points I'd like to add, unrelated to Greengrass:

    1.) The use of music throughout this movie is wretched. It's beyond distracting to the point of intolerably annoying and omnipresent. If I tried to hold my breath for a scene not backed by music I would have passed out very early on. And I can hold my breath for a while, so that's saying something.

    2.) I'm afraid I didn't make myself crystal clear on one major hang up about Green Zone. What was the point of it? What, really, is the purpose of making a fictional story as some kind of symbolic analogy for real-life events, when you could have simply stayed true to the actual events that happened? Michael Moore has called Green Zone "the most honest film yet" about this war. Considering it's an entirely fictional story, that sounds about right coming from him.

  7. I pretty much agree with your take on this movie. I wanted to like it but it was too simplistic - and you're right that the thriller half is a mess. I liked the first half that shows the horrid crime of young soldiers thrown into harm's way to find WMDs that didn't exist. I thought that one scene of Miller leading his men in while threatened by a sniper was well done. Other than that it was all forgettable.

  8. For me the whole movie was a missing WMD - I got bluffed into thinking it would have been either a taut thriller (even in the vein of The Hurt Locker) or at least a thought-provoking record of the war's early days. It was neither. All this talk about Magellan and Jordan and blah blah blah finger-point here, grand political statement there, emotional outburst and anticlimactic ending - back where we started with little entertainment and having learned nothing!


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