Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Green Zone, 2010

My entry for Tuesday's Overlooked Films, Audio and Video at Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom.

I discovered Green Zone (2010), directed by Paul Greengrass, and Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (2006), the book on which it is loosely based, quite by accident.

After watching the film unexpectedly on cable, I read about it online and found that it was adapted from the book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, an award-winning Indian-American journalist.

Chandrasekaran was former Bureau Chief of The Washington Post in Baghdad had a ringside view of America’s 2003 war in Iraq. He was until recently National Editor at the paper and, apparently, left the Post to start his own venture.

I plan to read Imperial Life in the Emerald City because I have been following events in Iraq and the Middle East ever since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Before I talk about the film, here is the synopsis of the book.


The Green Zone, Baghdad, 2003: in this walled-off compound of swimming pools and luxurious amenities, Paul Bremer and his Coalition Provisional Authority set out to fashion a new, democratic Iraq. Staffed by idealistic aides chosen primarily for their views on issues such as abortion and capital punishment, the CPA spent the crucial first year of occupation pursuing goals that had little to do with the immediate needs of a postwar nation: flat taxes instead of electricity and deregulated health care instead of emergency medical supplies.

In this acclaimed firsthand account, the former Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post gives us an intimate portrait of life inside this Oz-like bubble, which continued unaffected by the growing mayhem outside. This is a quietly devastating tale of imperial folly, and the definitive history of those early days when things went irrevocably wrong in Iraq.


I think the common thread between film and book is that things didn’t go as America planned in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war. Democracy cannot replace dictatorship overnight. Any regime change and especially a forced one brings its own set of challenges. There are serious consequences as we have seen in the years following US withdrawal. Iraq seems to be worse off than it was under Saddam, however despotic his regime was.

While George Bush senior was largely justified in launching Operation Desert Shield, his son’s invasion of Iraq thirteen years later had less to do with weapons of mass destruction and more to do with conquering Iraq and replacing Saddam with a puppet regime. Green Zone exposes the lies Bush and his neocon buddies told the world, questions the justification for American involvement, and reveals the deceptions and internal conflicts of agencies like Pentagon and CIA.

Caught in the crossfire of conspiracy are Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and his men whose mission is to find the weapons—based on secret information given by an Iraqi named Magellan—and bring in Al-Rawi, a powerful general in the Iraqi Republican Guard. The powers-that-be have good reason to capture Rawi for he can nail America's lie.

During a tense standoff between Miller and Rawi, the general reveals that Iraq got rid of the weapons in the early nineties but Washington didn’t want the world to know the truth. And that might well have been the case.

General Al Rawi: Your government wanted to hear the lie, Mr. Miller... they wanted Saddam out and they did exactly what they had to do... this is why you are here...

Rawi, who was on America’s 55 most wanted list, is currently serving a life sentence for his role in the suppression of the 1991 rebellions in Iraq.

Green Zone has the feel of an action-packed documentary and that’s partly because the events and people seem all too real, including WSJ reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) who suspects the truth and lets Miller in on the secret. The last hour of the film is shot almost entirely in the dark and shadowy lanes of Baghdad, as Miller and his men chase Al Rawi. It’s the kind of film that makes you wonder—"Did this really happen?”—and leaves you balancing on the seesaw of fact and fiction.

The very talented Matt Damon is somewhat expressionless but he does well as a conscientious soldier in a war that should have never taken place. Other notable actors include Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson. The film was shot in Spain, Morocco and England though the viewer wouldn't know. 

Director Paul Greengrass seems to favour Damon who he cast in The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) in the Bourne Trilogy. The actor is set to reprise the role of Jason Bourne in the namesake movie slated for a July release. Apart from these films, Greengrass has made Captain Phillips (2013), United 93 (2006) and Bloody Sunday (2002), all very intense and hair-raising. Clearly, he has a penchant for real-life stories laden with drama and action.

If you enjoyed films like American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and Black Hawk Down, you’ll probably like the lesser-known Green Zone, but don’t go in with too many expectations.

20 comments:

  1. How fascinating, Prashant, that the film is based (at least somewhat) on a book. I always like finding that out, so that I can compare book and film. It sounds like quite an action-packed film! Interesting how authors balance that fact/fiction edge...

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    1. Margot, I don't think the film did as well as some of the other contemporary war movies. I also think the film has been dramatised more than the book.

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  2. I saw GREEN ZONE in the theater when it was first released and my major memory of the film is disappointment. I think I was expecting something like THE BOURNE IDENTITY and this didn't live up to my expectations.

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    1. I agree, Ben. It didn't live up to my expectations either. There were moments when I thought the film was losing its way. Damon will always be known for the BOURNE trilogy, and for that we owe thanks to Robert Ludlum.

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  3. I really enjoyed the BOURNE films but managed to miss this one - thanks Prashant, must give it a go!

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    1. You're welcome, Sergio. You won't miss much if you continue to give GREEN ZONE the slip.

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  4. This sounds really interesting. I don't believe I'd even heard of the movie, but maybe I just forgot.

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    1. Charles, I discovered the film on cable. Until then, I'd not heard of it either. It's not a bad film but one can give it a miss.

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  5. I loved The Hurt Locker, but have never had a desire to see this one.

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    1. Ryan, I liked THE HURT LOCKER too. Compared to that film, this one is a tad disappointing.

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  6. I had never heard of this movie, Prashant, and the book sounds very interesting. I like Matt Damon and am a fan of the Bourne films, so I would probably like this one. I did like Zero Dark Thirty and Black Hawk Down also.

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    1. Tracy, I liked BLACK HAWK DOWN too and especially because I read about what happened to the real American soldiers in Somalia. I'm hoping to reread Ludlum someday.

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  7. Thanks for the honest review - I probably don't need to watch this film...

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    1. Thank you, Moira. You can pass the film.

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  8. Prashant – I think Paul Greengrass is one of the best directors working today. I believe he got his start in news and documentaries, which is why his fiction films are so vibrant and realistic.

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    1. Elgin, I didn't know that. Going by his directorial ventures I'm not surprised that news documentaries might have influenced his mainline films. I thought CAPTAIN PHILLIPS was outstanding. I'm glad I watched it in the theatre.

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    2. CPT. PHILLIPS was excellent. Tom Hanks should have gotten an Oscar, especially for that scene at the end when being checked over in sick bay.

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    3. I agree, Elgin. Hanks deserved an Oscar. He really gets into the skin of his characters, doesn't he? The intensity reminded me of his role in CAST AWAY.

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    1. I agree, Col. It's not the kind of film you should "rush" to see.

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