How do you make an Iraq War movie that audiences will actually pay to see? (Don’t holler The Hurt Locker, since all its Oscar medals never melted into box-office gold.) Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass deliver their answer in Green Zone, taking a nonfiction book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by former Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran, and turning it into a Bourne movie. Who better? Damon starred as the amnesiac CIA operative in all three Bourne films, and Greengrass directed the last two. Expect hand-held cameras tracking Damon as he runs, fights and chases Bush-era bad guys.
Nothing wrong with an ace action thriller. But the book, set after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, was more than that. Chandrasekaran reported brilliantly on life in the Green Zone as the Pentagon’s Paul Bremer (head of the Coalition Provisional Authority) holed up in Saddam’s lush former palace and orchestrated the hunt for phantom WMDs.
These facts are in the film, adapted by Brian Helgeland (Mystic River), but mostly as background with names changed to protect the guilty (a terrific Greg Kinnear plays the Bremer-like Clark Poundstone). Brendan Gleeson breathes fire and ice as the CIA honcho who adds his own layers of muddle. It’s up to a reporter (Amy Ryan, outstanding as usual) to dig out the dispassionate truth. Which leaves Damon’s warrant officer Roy Miller to represent the human element. Miller, a fictional invention, is a stand-in for those who believe we occupied Iraq to find weapons and save lives. Miller’s wake-up call is meant to be ours. Too little and too late? Maybe. But even in this Bourne Zone, Damon and Greengrass haven’t shirked their duty to enlighten and entertain.