Thursday, 11 March 2010


Universal Pictures
Now Showing

In one of those quirks of fate, the week that The Hurt Locker wins the Oscar for Best Picture sees another Iraq themed film open in cinemas. The Iraq setting is the only commonality between the two films, for while Kathryn Bigelow's examination of men in war was very much apolitical, in the sense that The Hurt Locker doesn't condone or condemn the US invasion of Iraq, Paul Greengrass's Green Zone has an undeniable political agenda: the President Bush led US invaded Iraq under false pretenses.

Getting audiences to watch an Iraq war movie is a hard enough sell and American(Republican, or pro-Bush) audiences may not enjoy being reminded of the monumental stuff up given that their troops are still their (Australian audiences, I suspect, will be less concerned with the political finger pointing). That's probably why Greengrass has framed the film as a political-action thriller and cast his Bourne trilogy leading man Matt Damon, the dangling carrot guaranteed to get bums on seats.

Damon is Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, head of a US military team on the ground in Baghdad in the early days of the 2003 invasion. They're searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), the initial reason for the invasion, but – surprise, surprise – continue to come up empty handed. Miller begins to suspect a rat which is soon confirmed by CIA veteran Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) who becomes his ally in the search for the source, codenamed Magellan, which precipitated the invasion.

It's in this sequence of the film – the third act, if you will – when Miller goes “off reservation” in pursuit of the source that it somewhat resembles the Bourne films. Greengrass directed the second and third entries in the Bourne trilogy and he certainly knows how to shoot an action sequence; his use of the handy-cam (which riles some) lets you feel as though you are indeed running the backstreets of Baghdad with Miller.

Strangely, I was never on the edge of my seat watching Green Zone. While certainly not bored, I was never fully engaged, either. Greengrass doesn't deliver the same level of tension he did with United 93 (2006), one of the best films of the past decade.

That won't stop Green Zone reaching a wide audience; it will gross more money on its opening weekend than The Hurt Locker did during its entire US theatrical run. Might I suggest to Australian audiences that if you see one Iraq war movie this weekend, make it the superior The Hurt Locker? Green Zone is definitely worth catching, and more for its political bravado than its machismo, but it will also be in cinemas much longer.

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