“We did go and invade this country,” says Matt Damon, “but we wanted to make a popcorn movie, basically.” Our favourite square-headed action bro isn’t unaware of the tension implicit in that intent, but it’s one that faintly troubles his reunion with action-fit two-time Bourne boss Paul Greengrass: the ratio of thrills to politics often leaves the latter for dust, craving more air.
Greengrass marshals his cine-weaponry well and at least grounds the ballistics in a clear-eyed source: Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life In The Emerald City, an account of the cluster-fuck following the attempt to “bring democracy” to Iraq. A thunderously immersive opening plunges into the inferno of the ‘shock and awe’ campaign and the WMD search. Damon shoulders the weight of weapon-hunting expectation and then confusion as Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who decides his intel is bullshit and, as rugged US military men do, goes rogue outside Baghdad’s ‘Green Zone’ to find the truth.
Directing like he’s in Damo’s backpack, Greengrass proves he’s action cinema’s unlikely godsend. Momentum is all: on a lovely overhead shot of the US operations base, helicopters veer in from side-screen to stress movement. John Powell’s jittering, tensile score sounds like he composed at gunpoint. Damon and Greengrass josh on an engaging commentary about the director making the star walk in a loop for a dialogue sequence to maintain motion. And, outside of Kathryn Bigelow, no one else stages alley chases and confined-space dust-ups with Greengrass’ kinetic combo of chaos and punch. If he wants to make big red-blooded ones, give the man the Batman 4 gig, fast.
Not that Green Zone is all popcorn rush: there’s some conviction here. Twenty too-short minutes of Making Of extras include Matt Damon: Ready For Action, a misleadingly titled featurette focusing on the authenticity-boosting Iraq vets co-starring. Locations feel thoroughly lived-in, the show-don’t-tell portrait of a country going to hell here putting visibly low odds on the devastating chances of “imposing democracy”.
Shame the handling of politics in Brian Helgeland’s script lacks nuance, then. More detail in Brendan Gleeson and Greg Kinnear’s hefty character turns, more of Yigal Naor’s Ba’athist general, more of Amy Ryan’s cipher-like journalist and less info-dump mini-lectures might have mitigated the suspicion of complexities being over-simplified. Aiming wider than The Hurt Locker’s smartly clipped groundlevel focus, Green Zone sacrifices some precision. But at least Greengrass is trying to match provocation to propulsion for multiplex-goers. For the most part, his “game face” is on.
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