In the wake of the “Hurt Locker” tsunami that recently swept this year’s Academy Awards, it’s difficult not to compare the breakthrough film to war movies released since then. Enter “Green Zone,” an eager contender stepping into the Iraq War arena. In contrast to the unnerving tranquility of war-ravaged Iraq “Locker” portrays, “Zone” depicts a different side, full of chaos and deception. But apparently that chaos is contagious, as “Zone” falls apart quickly despite its thrilling qualities.
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The film begins with a flash of light and an explosion. Pandemonium descends upon an Iraqi household as men and women rush to safety. Director Paul Greengrass wastes no time getting the action started and the adrenaline pumping.
The scene then switches to Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon, “Invictus”) as he leads his troops under sniper fire to an abandoned warehouse in the middle of Baghdad. The city has spiraled into anarchy as looters and raiders storm the streets. Heeding the civilians while still making their way inside, the American troops eventually secure the building, only to discover something ugly. The warehouse is completely empty.
“Zone” is about the investigation of the rumored weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq. Despite a seemingly dry subject material, Greengrass proves he can still maintain the same level of suspense and thrill his “Bourne” movies are famous for. Fans may rejoice upon seeing the familiar use of the first-person, shaky camera. This technique helps to create the fast-paced, engaging momentum of the movie.
What ultimately kills “Zone,” though, and sets it leagues apart from “Locker,” is the dispassionate roles in which the actors find themselves. Damon’s character is the prototypical soldier who defies seniority in the ranks in order to satiate inner curiosity. Greg Kinnear (“Little Miss Sunshine”) is the cookie-cutter bureaucrat who selfishly follows his own agenda “for the good of the country.”
Such formulaic roles also riddle multiple holes in what otherwise could have been a candidate for a strong war movie. There are too many unanswered questions by the end of the film. Who is to blame for the war? Is it the stoic soldier who blindly follows orders without questioning the validity of intelligence gathered? Is it the man in Washington who deceives everyone in order to gain what he wants? “Zone” may even put off some viewers with its dangerous habit of dancing a little too close to anti-American sentiment.
In the end, “Zone” is just another action-packed war movie that barely raises eyebrows. What is most disheartening is that it truly had a great deal of potential to stand on a similar tier to “Locker.” It appears, however, that subsequent war movies will still be caught in the latter’s shadow.