Maybe now that Hollywood has decided that the Iraq War is worth at least one Oscar it'll quit shoving overcooked realism and hindsight assessments down our throats. We can always hope. Until then, there's at least one more unappetizing serving left on our plates, hard-boiled to tastelessness and supposedly good for us: “Green Zone.”
It's actually a bit late for this kind of agit-cinema, thanks. Anyone capable of being shocked by what it has to tell us can't possibly have lived through the last decade of misadventure a full-grown person. Maybe some 12-year-old out there is thumbing through dusty copies of The Nation or diving deep into the online archives at Counterpunch, but man did I not need to hear this mess all over again.
Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Trilogy) gives us the whole pit of snakes, thinly veiled but still wriggling with iniquity. Greg Kinnear, generally reliable as a go-to sleazeball, can't quite muster the conniving arrogance and cataclysmic recklessness called for in his composite of Douglas Feith, Richard Armitage and John Bolton. Ahmad Chalabi shows up as little more than a bumbling presence, though the extent and destructive nature of his influence on the enterprise is probably understated. Dubya even makes an appearance, on a real life battleship (as in, “I sunk your ...”), and his performance is every bit as convincing as when it was first filmed.
Everyone takes their turn in the Cone of Shame, except: Why does Judith Miller, the careerist hack who beat the empty drums of WMDs at the New York Times, appear as Lawrie Dayne, a frightened rabbit filing copy for the ever-enthusiastic Wall Street Journal? Should we really be led to forget that the supposedly “liberal” NYT screwed the pooch so damn epically? Whither those open arms, Thomas Lauren Friedman?
Only the good guys are free of any real-world corollary. Surely there's no living person as embarrassingly jejune as Matt Damon's Capt. Miller, whose voyage of individual revelation seems to be the excuse for this parade. Miller's squad is tasked with tracking down those fictional WMDs, and after coming up empty time and time again, Miller gets pretty worked up about his reasons for being there.
This mental shift apparently gives him free reign of occupied Baghdad, including the highest levels of U.S. intelligence, whose factions compete for the loyalties of this Really Upset Guy. No telling what the rest of his squadron thinks about this business, but they're there when the plot needs them and dissipate agreeably when it does not. Meanwhile, Miller has plenty of opportunities to exercise his righteousness, right up until it is overcome by the forces of evil, despite his super-noble heroics. Needless to say: A liberal version of Charles Bronson is no less sentimental and fanciful.
This being a Paul Greengrass picture, the camerawork is really handheld and shaky. The action scenes are therefore inscrutable, which is nice in a way because just like there's onscreen corollaries for the dirtbags in Washington who started it all, there's a guy over there bleeding out on the ground whose family is suffering. I mean, it's good to think that maybe the truth came out after all, but do the horrors of war have any justification, even an unfalse one?
What I'm saying is that while the (skewed) history lesson is all well and good, what I'd prefer is a good old-fashioned public flogging. Only last year's vicious and absolutely uncompromising “In the Loop” has come close to what I'm talking about, and that was really only a tongue-lashing, if an exceptionally skillful one. Hollywood won't win me over until I see some skin fly.