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Films: Green Zone * * *

(thriller. Starring Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Amy Ryan. Directed by Paul Greengrass. cert 15a)

Following the victories for The Hurt Locker and Kathryn Bigelow in Los Angeles on Sunday there's now every chance that studios will take this as a sign that the world is ready for movies about Iraq and greenlight all manner of gung-ho garbage in an attempt to cash in on the triumph of that modestly budgeted but brilliantly executed movie.

However, the reason The Hurt Locker stood out was that, unlike Lions for Lambs, Rendition, Redacted and others, it didn't set out to make political points, but portrayed the situation in which troops on the ground find themselves every day.

So, by chance, within a week of the Oscars we now have Paul Greengrass -- a movie-maker who made his name with politically charged docudramas before Bourne came along -- with a film set in Baghdad in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, adapted from a book which portrayed the chaos and ineptitude which followed the toppling of Saddam.

However, while Greengrass and his screenwriter Brian (LA Confidential) Helgeland haven't completely dispensed with the wrangling and political in-fighting outlined in Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City -- Inside Baghdad's Green Zone, they've toned down the intrigue somewhat and delivered up a highly credible action thriller.

With Greengrass's trademark shaky camera following Matt Damon in a tense action sequence as bullets fly and the soundtrack booms, you could be forgiven for thinking that what we have here is Bourne Goes to Baghdad and, to a certain extent, that's not a million miles from the truth.

Damon plays Roy Miller, an army officer charged with tracking down Weapons of Mass Destruction who becomes suspicious that he's been given bogus intelligence when he and his men come up empty-handed -- well, of course they would, wouldn't they? His desire to perform his duty as simply as possible is compromised amid machinations involving the CIA and the American administration on the ground, as petty power struggles take place against a backdrop of a country about to descend into civil war.

Green Zone does make points without battering you over the head with them and the ever-reliable Damon's decent guy is complemented by solid performances from Brendan Gleeson as a veteran and cynical CIA man while Greg Kinnear's neocon bureaucrat is as slippery as an oil slick. Greengrass does let things get a bit too Black Hawk Down in the final third but, I suppose, if he intends this solid, occasionally thrilling film to reach a wide audience then that's the price you have to pay. HHHII - GB