Greengrass himself said during production that he wanted to make a film about the Iraq war but that he realised it needed to be commercial as well so that it could reach the most people, so the idea of Bourne in Iraq isn't that far off.
However Green Zone is much less like the Bourne films as some would have you believe, and it is a rather effective thriller that has some very realistic moments in battle. As Greengrass wanted, this is a fine mix of an expose and entertainment.
The problem is that they've not been finding any, and this is really concerning Miller, and when CIA Agent Martin Brown, played by Brendan Gleeson, notices his concern he sees an opportunity to get some hands on front line information and try and reveal the truth behind what's happening. Brown shares the same concern as Miller, a concern that goes against the Government officials in charge of the intelligence, who are managing the whole change of regime and the implementation of a democratic Government.
One official in particular, played by Greg Kinnear, seems to be in control of everything and is fighting to keep the CIA and the Chief Warrant Officer away from the truth, while at the same time feeding the press the "official truth" about the WMDs and the evidence, promising them direct access to their source in return for spreading the WMD story based solely on his word.
This is where the characters and their motives begin to clash. The Chief Warrant Officer meets a local Iraqi who convinces him they are wasting their time and has seen one of the senior Bathist party Generals near his home. Officer Miller heads out to track the man down, on the way uncovering the truth about the intelligence and the WMDs. He gains the support of the CIA agent and the interest of reporter who first spread the WMD story for the Government, and they all gain the attention of the official who is desperate to keep things moving forward and bury the truth.
The statement "Bourne in Iraq" could easily be used for this film, and I don't think it does it an injustice at all. Paul Greengrass has done exactly what he said he wanted to do and delivered a film that's a cross between an expose and a piece of entertainment, allowing a film about the Iraq invasion and the reasons for going to war to be delivered to as wide an audience as possible. It's a surprisingly clever move, and one that's worked very well.
Yet there are two issues with that. One is the question of if it has been such a success. I'd say for balancing the two films together and getting it to a wider audience it most definitely has. The other issue is the idea of bringing these two genres together and whether that clouds the believability of what truth might lie within the film.
An expose needs to have the truth behind it and be shocking and revealing, whereas an entertainment film is designed to just entertain, it manipulates and turns the story deliberately to do the same to the audience and elicit emotional responses from them. Even with a true story within an entertainment film, you'll see it twist and turn the events and facts to engage the audience, even at the expense of historical accuracy. So when you mix the two genres the big question is where is the truth?
The other concern is then what happens to the public belief of the truth? Are we expected to take this all as complete fiction, or begin to believe it as fact? Worrying surveys in America have shown that entertainment films based on factual events have begun to seep into the consciousness of the younger population, so much so that they are beginning to believe entertainment over historical fact, U-571 was a perfect example of this.
That was my biggest question and concern at the end of the film. How much of this is truth, and how much is just straight up entertainment? Greengrass has done this before with United 93 (Filmstalker review), but it was made clear that the film was based on the phone calls and cockpit recorder of the actual flight, giving a strong indication of what actually happened on board and that everything else was conjecture, but positive conjecture.
An interesting difference between the two films of Greengrass' is that United 93 was a positively focused film, a tribute one could say to the people, whereas Green Zone is a criticism, a negative view. Perhaps that's where the concerns about entertainment versus fact becomes even more important.
However let's put that to the side and view Green Zone purely as entertainment, nothing more, for without the actual film-makers knowledge, or reading the book from which the film is based, we're not going to know or understand the actual truths behind each scene and action.
So after all that it's perhaps surprising for me to say that I actually enjoyed the film. It didn't get under my skin as much as I had hoped it would, and I think that was due to the fact that I couldn't find that level of truth versus entertainment, but the entertainment worked well.
It's a good, strong thriller that has a fast and relentless pace to it with what seems like very realistic scenes of what war in Iraq, from the recreation of Iraq and some of the battle scenes, to the way the soldiers behave and operate in open combat. That level of realism manages to pull you into the events and add to the tension and the weight of the story.
While it can be described as Bourne in Iraq, there are a few things that do set the film apart from Bourne, one is that strong sense of realism throughout, there's the fact that the shaky cam style of Bourne has been toned down for this film, and that the dramatic weight of the story has you more involved in every setback that the character faces, much more so than Bourne.
So there is a degree of the Bourne films there, but Green Zone definitely does find a place to stand by itself and the lead character of the film is much more a real soldier than a fictitious spy who can defeat anyone and anything, and who faces danger that doesn't seem a reality.
The pace of the film is similar to Bourne in that it doesn't let up, and that's something we see during the solo parts of the mission for the lead character where he's chasing the Iraqi General through the war torn streets. This part does seem a little more Bourne on paper, but at this stage you are much more invested in this character and believing in the events around him that the feeling is gone, and it's only through examination of the film in reviews such as this do you feel the similarities.
The effects and the recreation of Iraq brings that level of realism in the film up a notch, the shots of the city being bombed or when soldiers are in the streets, night or day, dealing with Iraqi people looks like all the footage you've seen of the soldiers actually in Iraq on active duty. This reality doesn't just extend to the effects, the sets and the equipment, but to the actors and the way they behave. Again it's the attention to detail and realism that builds the extra level of tension and believability in the film that pays dividends by capturing the audience in the setting and the story.
Matt Damon was very good, and while I'm sure there will be people who'll only be too happy to say that he was playing Bourne once more, I don't agree. Sure the characters are similar, but you just have to watch him interacting with the other soldiers to see the real role he's playing is different and that there's a fair bit more emotional investment here.
The appearances from Jason Isaacs were all to brief, but then I enjoyed the fact that they didn't make too much of the character and build him up to be a typical Hollywood villain. The scene where he appears is a powerful one and you can feel the confusion as the soldiers around Damon's character are.
Brendan Gleeson as the CIA agent and Greg Kinnear as the Government official in charge of the events both gave strong performances, and their own combative relationship played out well. Kinnear's performance and the way his character is written is interesting to watch, ignorant, arrogant and blind to what's really happening, but yet totally driven believing that what he has to do is the right thing.
During a few key points there's a strong feeling of an inability of various people within the American structure not being able to stand up and question what's happening, it all seems to be about a one way flow of orders and information. There are a couple of scenes where this is demonstrated really well and it does make you wonder why people aren't more enabled to question orders in such Governmental structures.
Still, I do find myself returning to that issue about fact versus entertainment. I can't help but think that if I believed more in the truth of some of the issues being presented in the film - and I'm not saying I don't believe them, I just don't know what's true - then I would have invested more and the dramatic impact of the story would have been multiplied for me.
Even though it did manage to bring through some serious issues and questions about the reasons behind the war, fictional film or not, but if we knew how true a representation this was from the beginning then perhaps it would have had us all more engaged, more entertained and thinking much more about the issues afterwards.
I can't help but think that if the film was made to question the truths behind the reasons for going to war and the truth in the film was altered for entertainment, then it's kind of defeating the original purpose.
The picture for Green Zone on the iTouch carries a much wider aspect than most films I've watched, and so there was even less screen available for the picture. This did cause a problem during some scenes where there's a lot more detail in the shot, a lot more action, but considering the fast pace of the film you are swept along with it well.
Still, the small screen doesn't do much during the bigger action sequences and you do feel like you lose a bit of the scope and impact of some of these shots.
The black levels are good, which is important in a film which has a lot of action at night time. It works well on the iTouch screen and when the bright day time sun shots come they aren't too washed out by the brightness and contrast.
I re-watched the film on the PC using iTunes and was very disappointed with the quality. There was a distinctive grain throughout compared to the much crisper iTouch screen, and when there was movement in the shot or by the camera, banding occurred in the top third of the picture which proved quite distracting.
The sound does pack a punch on the headphones and there does feel as though there's a little direction to the sound. A few times I increased the volume during scenes of quiet dialogue and turned it down again when the action hit, but this wasn't a real issue.
Deleted Scenes, Matt Damon: Ready for Action
There are a number of scenes that have been removed from the film, and they range from dramatic, such as the bomb attack outside the mosque, to the moving such as the return of the Iraqi soldier's body to his wife and family. Not only is that scene moving but there's also an interesting snippet of information in it, and you do wonder if these scenes could have been left in.
Matt Damon: Ready for Action:
An interesting featurette that sees Matt Damon talking about the filming and acting alongside real soldiers. In fact most of this featurette is about the real soldiers in the film, about how they treated Damon, how they fitted in, and above all the tactical information they gave the film-makers to make every scene with the soldiers appear as real as possible. It's a nice featurette that I think we could have done with more of.
As I said, I enjoyed Green Zone the action-thriller, the real questions I have are over it's legitimacy as a commentary on the events behind going to war on Iraq and how much of it was a cover-up, as well as what and how things were covered-up while at war. I can't help but feel if the audience had been a little more informed on what was true by the film, even with some up front titles, then we would have felt the dramatic impact more.
It does a good job of separating itself from the Bourne films, of which there was no doubt it would draw close to, and Matt Damon does another good performance here, as do Jason Isaacs, Brendan Gleeson and Greg Kinnear.
The film does raise some questions about the command structure, the power placed with the officials and not with the soldiers, and about the Iraq war, but there's still that underlying question of what is truth and what is entertainment, and perhaps even what is point of view. It will make you think and question, but perhaps it should be viewed as a way to help you get to original book.
Green Zone is a stylish action-thriller that keeps the pace going, builds the tension well, and handles a number of big issues without losing the audience. With a whole heap of realism added in from locations to actors and equipment, it does turn out to be a strong film about war and delivers a little of what may go on behind the doors of the command.