First, a special note. I certainly did not plan to review a movie about the Iraq War a few days before 9/11. I would like to take these opening lines and memorialize the victims of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, a terrible day that will not be forgotten. Writer/Director Paul Greengrass did his part to remember, pay tribute to, and spur further action from these events by making the movies United 93 and Green Zone, the latter of which I review here.
Green Zone tricked me. Green Zone stars Matt Damon and was directed by Paul Greengrass who helmed the Jason Bourne series, so I assumed Green Zone would be another fun action flick. The trailer sets the movie in Iraq but it also features music by Moby (in this case, ‘Alice’), a trademark of the Bourne Series. All told, I mentally prepped myself four Jason Bourne 4. But what I got was a war movie, and I very much do not like war movies. Let me provide two points of context.
First, war movies are my least favorite genre. Most war movies feel like the same movie with a very cut-and-dry story, and chaotic camerawork plus wartime heroism (mostly masculine) isn’t how I unwind on screen. WWII movies are the worst culprit, as they have over-saturated the genre. I still can’t bring myself to see Dunkirk despite its aesthetic novelty. Now, move the war story to a novel and I can do it. I love the unique WWII tales in Michael Chabon’s novels and am excited to read All the Light We Cannot See. Heck, move the war story to space like in Rogue One and I’m all-in. But move the war story to a future with monkeys (War for the Planet of the Apes) and I’ll pass. Maybe I’m weird, but war stories aren’t my jam.
Second, I knew Greg Kinnear was in the war movie We Were Soldiers. The movie’s been sitting on my shelf for weeks as I mentally prepare to watch it. WWS features Sam Elliott and Keri Russell, both of whom I love, but also Mel Gibson (blergh). The trailer is inexplicably four minutes long, so watching it was already a tall order. Here I was, preparing to watch WWS when Green Zone came along. GZ is 100% a war movie, a fictional retelling of how the US entered into the War in Iraq. But it wasn’t all bad. Greg Kinnear’s character is Clark Poundstone, which is easily the best name he’ll ever have on-screen. And Poundstone was single-handedly responsible for starting the War in Iraq. Add that to your resume, GK!
Green Zone (2010)
Greengrass fused his love of the handheld shaky-cam with his love for action/spy movies in the Bourne trilogy with his love for docudramas such as United 93 and Captain Phillips to make Green Zone. The plot to GZ isn’t too complex, but you do need to keep up. The movie is set in 2003, and the literal Green Zone is the 4 sq mile region in central Baghdad secured by the American army. There are four main characters:
- Matt Damon is the army war officer tasked with finding WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) in Iraq.
- Greg Kinnear is the top Pentagon official in the literal Green Zone, where he is in charge of day-to-day operations and receives WMD intel. And his name is Clark Poundstone.
- Brendan Gleeson (aka General Hux’s dad) is the CIA agent who suspects Poundstone of hiding stuff.
- Yigal Naor is the highest ranking Iraqi general, and is in hiding.
**Note that in the following plot summary I will use actor names as a stand-in for their characters, except for GK. I have to call him Clark Poundstone here…and maybe even in future reviews.
We first meet Matt Damon as he leads his unit to an Iraqi site predicted to house WMDs. The site is unsecure, looters run riot, and (surprise, surprise) there are no WMDs. Back at a debriefing meeting, Matt is angry that he has now gone to multiple sites without finding any WMDs. He suspects the intel Poundstone is getting (from a source code-named “Magellan”) is bad. Matt’s tasked with another site to investigate, but then CIA operative Gleeson tells him that this new site doesn’t have any WMDs.
At the new site, Matt’s men are digging holes (because the WMDs are supposedly buried, I guess) but Matt is bored with this bogus assignment. A local named Freddy tells Matt that General Yigal is meeting with other Iraqi operatives nearby. Matt and his men bust into the meeting, but Yigal and most other operatives escape. However, Matt captures the host and finds a notebook on him listing all of Yigal’s safe houses (homes?). But right as Matt starts to interrogate his captive, Poundstone’s men helicopter in and extract the captive (but Matt sneaks out the notebook).
Back in the Green Zone, Matt hands the notebook over to Gleeson and is transferred to Gleeson’s command. But then Poundstone siezes the notebook from Gleeson and re-transfers Matt back to his command. But then Matt sneaks into prison and extracts info from the captive that allows him to identify “Magellan,” aka the source of the faulty intel. Magellan is…General Yigal! *Gasp* In early 2003, General Yigal met with Poundstone in Jordan and told him there were no WMDs in Iraq. Poundstone returned to the US and opted to lie, urging the US to invade Iraq and look for nonexistent WMDs. So, yep, Greg Kinnear was responsible for the Iraq war.
What follows is the best action sequence of the movie, which I legit enjoyed. Poundstone sends teams to the safe house locations to find and eliminate Yigal (so that Poundstone’s lie can be preserved). At the same time, Matt sets up a meeting with Yigal to find out the truth…and arrives just as Poundstone’s men do. There’s a long foot chase (which is the perfect use of handicams) that’s exciting and invigorating. At the end, Yigal ends up dead and Matt is forced to leak the info he knows to all the journalists he can find via email. Game over, Iraq was a mistake.
What can I say of the movie’s verisimilitude? More appropriately, what do I feel comfortable saying? Not much. The movie was based on the non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, yet extends well beyond the book’s scope which was to expose the cushy life of US operatives inside the literal Green Zone. This Atlantic review notes the polemic nature of the movie, while complaining that the CIA not the Pentagon was responsible for the false intel motivating invasion of Iraq irl.
I don’t want to continue down this rabbit hole, and I hope we can agree that the motives for invading Iraq were suspect and flawed. I do want to address three major weaknesses of Green Zone’s fictional account. First, the movie shows no motivation for Poundstone to lie about the existence of WMDs in Iraq, other than a desire to start a war to “kill Saddam.” Providing more depth to Poundstone’s motives for deception would have been nice, especially since Poundstone is a movie stand-in for the US at large. Second, the biggest mistake of the US government is in choosing not to validate Poundstone’s account of WMDs. The movie seems to argue that all serious intel should be verified (yes! definitely!)…until ending by having Matt Damon e-mail out true-but-unverified intel to journalists. The movie defeats its own message. Third, the movie’s only female was a token character. Amy Ryan (aka Holly from The Office, ‘Beadie’ from The Wire) plays a journalist for the WSJ who alerts Matt to suspicions about “Magellan.” She’s not required for the plot (I just told it without her lol), and it’s a shame Greengrass didn’t strengthen her character.
So, how was Greg Kinnear as CLARK POUNDSTONE?! Ok. Just, ok. It’s hard for actors & actresses in narrative-driven action movies like Green Zone to stand out, such that all the secondary actors (Kinnear, Gleeson, Naor, Ryan) were good but not great. Matt Damon is always great, but–in a similar vein–his acting muscles are more fully flexed in movies like The Informant!, Good Will Hunting, and The Martian.
One GK scene that could have been improved was when he condescendingly puts Matt Damon in his place after he’s reassigned Matt and seized the notebook. The scene lasts all of three seconds, and just by giving it a little room to breathe we could have seen GK use his trademark facial expressions to exude confident power. The best GK scene is the final sequence. In it, GK is confronted by Matt who yells a lot of nasty things about Poundstone’s fibs. Matt is escorted away, and GK remains confident as his reputation remain intact. Then GK enters the next room, where Iraqis are outraged over the American exile hand-picked by GK to be Iraq’s new president. Kinnear’s change in facial expression conveys to the viewer both his loss-in-confidence and his naïve understanding of Iraq that (fictionally) prompted the war.
- War movies are my least favorite genre, besides maybe cat movies. Green Zone is a war movie.
- Green Zone has several storytelling and character development weaknesses in its fictional account of the start of the Iraq War. But it is an easy-enough action movie to follow, and has a wonderful climactic chase sequence.
- Turns out Greg Kinnear started the Iraq War. And should change his name to Clark Poundstone irl. Other than that, he was just ok as a pentagon official who lies about the existence of WMDs in Iraq.
- Next Up: Ghost Town, which I wanted to see ever since I first saw the trailer. My wife and I recently watched it, it’s hilarious, and Greg is top-notch. Get stoked.
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