Rating: 4 out of 5
The beleaguered nation of Iraq is currently in the midst of organising another messy election to fortify its fragile democracy.
It’s wrong that the election has been delayed due to in-fighting between sectarian parties. But it’s perhaps also wrong that the election is even taking place.
Seven years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, Paul Greengrass’ new picture, Green Zone, comes as timely reminder of the mendacity that underlines Iraq’s current political crisis.
The film’s title refers to the special administrative area formed around former dictator Saddam Hussein’s palace in the nation’s capital, Baghdad.
It was within and around this area that American military operatives scoured – and failed – to locate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the existence of which formed the Bush administration’s central justification for war.
Greengrass’ film, fiction ‘inspired’ by actual tussles between senior U.S intelligence and military officials (see Imperial Life in the Emerald City by author Rajiv Chandrasekaran), dramatises that futile search and its ramifications within a teeming, ravaged and utterly realistic setting.
Matt Damon, who last worked with Greengrass in the excellent Bourne sequels, plays Chief Warrant Office Roy Miller, an army scavenger frustrated by his unit’s failed missions to locate Saddam’s stores of WMD.
At the start of the film, Miller believes the reason for this failure is bad intelligence provided by an anonymous CIA source known as ‘Magellan’.
But as he is increasingly exposed to the ideological feuds between the neo-conservative Defense Intelligence agent Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear, powerfully trenchant) and the CIA’s Baghdad station chief, Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), Miller begins to suspect that something else – something more insidious – is at work.
Supported covertly by Brown and aided reluctantly by an Iraqi civilian nicknamed ‘Freddy’ (Khalid Abdalla), Miller embarks on a mission to apprehend a Ba’athist general, Al Rawi (Igal Naor), whom he believes can confirm – or deny – the critical intelligence hitherto provided by Magellan.
The search for Al Rawi is fraught, frenetic and – as executed by Greengrass – thoroughly exhilarating. Deploying the same “run-and-gun” style of the Bourne movies, Greengrass intersperses tense action sequences with exchanges between Miller and the film’s key supporting characters.
These include Freddy, who fully embodies Iraqi ambivalence towards American intervention; and journalist Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), a fictional surrogate for the real-life New York Times correspondent Judith Miller, who buttressed the case for war by propagating the Bush administration’s falsified ‘intelligence’ on WMD.
Because of the on-going crisis in Iraq, Green Zone is shot through with palpable urgency; it’s a grim re-telling of the not-so-fictional political machinations and complicities behind an illegal war waged on a false premise.
The lie that was “Operation Iraqi Freedom” has so far proven to be something of a box office jinx. Greengrass and Damon can hopefully reverse that trend. They have created a riveting film – an important film even – which deserves to be seen.
Ken Kwek is a playwright and screenwriter. His film credits include The Ballad of Vicki and Jake (2005), The Blue Mansion (2009) and the forthcoming Kidnapper (2010).