Friday, September 24, 2010

Green With Envy

It's hard to believe that it's been thirteen years since Matt Damon, along with running buddy Ben Affleck, won an Academy Award for the screenplay they wrote for the Harvard-based drama Good Will Hunting, way back in 1997. Since that time, while Affleck was originally thought to be the film's breakout star, moving quickly from role to role, especially action flicks like Daredevil, Damon at first had the more subdued career. but has churned out a superior career including Saving Private Ryan, The Departed, the Oceans series, and the extremely popular Bourne series, the films of which are not only some of the best action movies of the new millennium and are inspire most new films of the genre, but also cemented Damon's star status and made any movie in which he starred one that instantly garnered major public interest. So when Damon stars in Green Zone, a film that promises the love child of the Bourne movies and last year's Oscar darling, The Hurt Locker, it begs to be seen.

The story, based on the popular book Imperial Life in the Emerald City by journalist Ravij Chandrasekaran, revolves around a familiar news item to anyone over the age of twenty, the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the military's failure to locate these weapons. Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, played by Damon, is the leader of a squad of soldiers who are constantly being sent to suspected WMD sites, with orders to capture and secure this mythical ordinance. Every time they reach and secure a site, many of which still harbor enemy combatants, they discover that the location in fact holds no such bounty. The sources pointing to these sites come through the office of Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), a Pentagon Special Intelligence officer who claims the locations are from an anonymous source, codenamed "Magellan". Miller decides to go "off reservation" to find out not only why he and his team are sent into empty sites, but also to capture the "Jack of Clubs", General Mohammed Al-Rawi (Yigal Naor), and bring him to justice.

"Wait... was that my credibility?"
The acting here is pretty good, though not nearly as good as it could have been. While Damon is the meat and gristle of the film, there's not an enormous amount of depth to his character. A competent leader, Miller has no trouble questioning authority when it leads him to location after empty location. While others around him don't care about the fact that they haven't found anything yet, Miller is the only one to question why. Damon plays all this well, but lack of a background makes him fairly anonymous compared to other, more famous military-based characters. Kinnear is fine as a slimy suit, but it's not much of a stretch for him. At least this movie with Matt Damon isn't Stuck on You. Another fantastic actor, Amy Ryan, is sorely underused here. As a Wall Street Journal reporter who writes the stories based on what Poundstone supplies her, Ryan should have been better. She's been one of the best undervalued actresses in this century, from HBO's The Wire to her stint on The Office to her Oscar-nominated role in Gone Baby Gone, and this stock character is the best she can be provided with. It's a real shame. Another underutilized actor is Jason Isaacs, who can be a brilliant performer when given half a chance. Here, as a Special Forces Major who clashes with Miller, he's dry and vaguely uninteresting, his take on American bravado here almost looking as false as his ridiculous fu manchu. Speaking of talent, Brendan Gleeson is yet another actor who doesn't get enough to really make his character interesting, though he comes out better than most of the others, Damon included. As the CIA's bureau cheif in Baghdad, he briefly recruits Miller to find out what's going on with the WMD hunt.

"Yeah, I've got another Bourne movie coming out next year."
Actually, the best actors are those portrayed as living in the country our forces are occupying. As one of the film's main antagonists, Naor (who played the country's former ruler two years ago in BBC and HBO's House of Saddam), is elegant and strong in his portrayal of an exiled Iraqi General who plots to unite Iraq's scattered and hidden military to drive out the Americans. But the real star of the film may be Khalid Abdalla, who plays an informant by the name of Freddie. Freddie doesn't love the Americans invading his homeland, but he hates more the villains and traitors who ignored and harmed the people of their own country. Abdalla puts forth a brilliant performance as one who can't quite bring himself to trust Miller or the Americans, but has put himself in somewhat of a tricky situation, with the alternative being the rule by his evil-minded kinfolk. He's by far the reason to watch this film.

Wow, this must be a good movie if they're in it... not.
The film could be used as a cynic's guide to why the War on Terror was a sham, especially as many of the events pictured, at least early on in the film, are based on true events, especially big, familiar events such as the first Shock and Awe bombings of Baghdad, and the adaptation of real locations (such as the safe, secured "Green Zone" for which the movie is named) and people (despite the usual disclaimers that the characters are fictional and not based on anyone, many have pointed out the obvious real-life people the characters are based on). It's probably Hollywood's first and last attempt to accurately depict the War on Terror, as the film did quite poorly, especially for it's big budget. It's not surprising, since the film is inaccurately portrayed as an action film, while anyone actually watching it would be entertained by the constant view of the Americans fucking everything up. It's probably a little too picky for it's own good, as it garnered many an anti-American and Anti-military label, a death-knell for the box office.

Isaacs and Damon search for a better film to make
My above statement of the Bourne movies and The Hurt Locker making sweet, sweet procreation seems to bear fruit. While the film seems to paint a true picture of life and combat during the War on Terror, it contains much more action than last year's Best Picture winner, culminating in a huge, over-the-top end battle where all the main protagonists and antagonists duke it out. This is about the point where the film jumps the shark, as while it's not out of the realm of possibility to have action sequences in a war movie, the scene is so overblown that it feels like a complete other movie, with only the related characters being any bridge between the two.

Woot, action scene!
By the time the whole thing is over, you're reminded that 90% of the reason you went to see this movie was the ten minutes spent on the action sequences, the studios obviously not putting much faith in the film's cynical view of the US Military and fearing perhaps a backlash from those in power. It's a shame for director Paul Greenglass, who's previous work on The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, and United 93 were far superior that this film performs poorly and did so well at the box office. However, someone has to be put on the spot for casting so many brilliant actors and letting them fall flat on their faces with bland drivel that would make Gregory Peck look like a rank amateur. As far as Green Zone goes, you can safely skip it and just pick up last year's deserving Oscar winner instead.

"I'm %&#^$ Matt Damon"
A final note, thanks again to my readers: Yesterday, The Latest Issue put together it's 2000'th official hit, and I owe it all to your dedicated readership! I hope you continue to enjoy my reviews, as I love writing them for you! Enjoy.


steve said...

A masterful takedown! And ... a 2000 milestone! Yikes! Congrats.

Opinioness of the World said...

That's such a shame that they wasted such salient talent as Amy Ryan (fucking awesomely brilliant in 'The Wire' and 'Gone Baby Gone') and Jason Isaacs (so good in 'Nine Lives'). I completely agree with you, Gianni that they are underrated actors who deserve far more than what they are often given.