Peter M Howard ::

Green Zone

05Apr2010 [movies]

In which a war is sold with lies

The Paul Greengrass shaky-cam style of storytelling is an interesting one to bring to Iraq. And it works well, to a point. Where it breaks down is when it attempts to explain things tidily — we expect, Bourne-style, some resolution. We expect that Damon's Roy Miller will show us who the bad guys are, and bring them down a peg. But there's an unwillingness to take the story to its logical conclusion. We identify one bad guy certainly — Greg Kinnear's marvelously smarmy neo-con Poundstone. And there's clearly a hint of collusion from Amy Ryan's journalist Dayne. But the real bad guys in this story were all the people like them — all the neo-cons running around trying to scrap together pieces of evidence to make a case for a war they really wanted, and all the journalists who eagerly fed at the scraps and helped sell their lie. It's understandable that the film would be nervous to point the finger, given the neo-cons and their journalists are still in power (Obama not-withstanding), but this leaves the film feeling disappointingly unresolved.

In the end, the film's reveal — that WMD evidence was in fact manufactured, and that we were sold a lie to justify a war — just doesn't come off right. Oddly, it felt too easy; it's such an absurd situation that it isn't at all believable within the framework established by the film. It's cliché that truth is stranger than fiction, but there you go. And moreover, the film's triumph is weak. Sure, Miller gets his story out, but does so with all evidence destroyed, and only to those same journalists that sold the war in the first place. And again, the truth gets in the way: here we are nearly seven years later and still only able to tell this story as fiction. It's depressing.

But ignoring the depressing reality, it's a decent enough action movie. It's solidly directed, acted. Tension runs at just the right level throughout, aided by tight camera work and relatively subtle soundscapes and musical composition. Ocassionally the politics make for some clumsy dialogue: Matt Damon is overly shrill when he yells "the reasons for war always matter"; Igal Naor's Al Rawi is just a little too wise when he reminds us that the politicians were told what they wanted to hear, a point that's repeated a couple of times just in case we missed it. But on the whole it's well written, with a few different characters actually rounded out. I was pleasantly surprised to come across Iraqi characters with actual agency, even if they were just dragged out when they were required.

And while the ending leaves me uncomfortable, it's about time we started telling this story. The reasons for war really do matter, and history has a tendency to gloss over them, maybe leaving us with a single catalyst as a simple explanation, and always ignoring the actual motives driving the war. If history and popular culture can even try and grapple with the motives for the invasion of Iraq, we just might learn something this time.

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