Movies: Green Zone * * *
(15A, general release)
Paul Greengrass has no equal at the minute when it comes to crafting action thrillers. His two Bourne films changed the face of action film-making and forced the Bond franchise and other competitors to drastically up their games.
In United 93, he put these talents to serious use, creating a beautifully crafted (if necessarily speculative) account of the events on board that 9/11 flight that failed to reach its intended target. And he's at it again in this gripping drama based around the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Matt Damon, Greengrass's action muse, plays Roy Miller, a US army warrant officer who's searching with his unit for WMDs in occupied Baghdad when he begins to smell a rat. Time after time they arrive at the supposed locations of stashes of chemical and biological weapons to find no trace of them. When Miller raises this with his superiors, he's told to mind his own business. But, after a debriefing, he's approached by a CIA bureau chief called Brown (Brendan Gleeson), who offers him a covert job.
While he's mulling this over, Miller acts on a tip and raids a house in the green zone (the city's heavily occupied core) where he spots a high-ranking Iraqi general. Miller tells Brown, who shares his suspicions that this general had met secretly with US intelligence before the invasion and may know the truth about the WMDs. Miller then agrees to go undercover and bring the general in alive. But there are various interests at work in Baghdad, and Miller falls foul of one Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), a Pentagon intelligence chief and Bush administration insider.
Typically, Greengrass keeps all this ticking along an an invigorating pelt and Damon makes a most convincing action hero. And the movie's climax is one of the most accomplished pieces of film-making you'll see all year. In fact, Green Zone would be a sparkling thriller if it weren't for the fact that it pertains to be about the Iraq war, which brings the expectation of some sort of fresh perspective, or insight. We get none, and the film's rather obvious plot makes it all seem a bit like 'Desert Bourne'. Which is fine, but you feel that Greengrass and Damon have squandered the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the roots of a very messy war.