Matt Damon returns to the silver screen in a movie that calls the American conscience into question. The star of The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, etc., plays a Chief Warrant Officer in the United States Army whose job is to search for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in post-invasion Baghdad.
Though a growing number of books have attempted to address life in the Middle East, both before and after September 11, few movies have taken on that task. “Green Zone” is one of them, and its superb cinematography leaves the inquisitive mind with much to contemplate.
The premise of the movie, which is loosely based on the book, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” is simple: that is, the fruitless search for WMD’s after Saddam Hussein was deposed. However, the questions it raises are not simple.
As Damon’s character, Roy Miller, interacts with the members of his unit, with “Freddy” an Iraqi man who stumbles into his life and becomes his translator, a driven Defense Department intelligence agent, and a CIA station chief at odds with America’s foreign policy in Iraq, the movie takes on an unsettling, post-contemporary tone. There is no one right answer, and the wrong answers are often comprised of partial truths and well-intentioned efforts.
Miller’s unit is assigned to scour Baghdad and the surrounding area for WMDs using information from what they are told is a highly classified, and highly reliable, source. Yet site after site turns out to be another abandoned warehouse or toilet factory. While digging at what appears to be yet another dead site, “Freddy,” an Iraqi who lost his leg in Afghanistan while fighting for his country, appears with information regarding a reunion of several high profile targets.
Suddenly, Miller’s job, and his personal interests, are given a complicated twist. Miller is plunged into the debate on the validity of the information on WMDs, into a turf war between the Defense Department and the CIA, and into the battle for a stable government and future for Iraq. While his sleuthing is rather improbable –no military personnel have the liberty to take that much initiative in a war zone, and no Army Warrant Officer has the political knowledge and understanding to begin such a search campaign on their own- the adventure upon which Damon’s character embarks is intriguing and action-packed.
Viewers must be aware that “Green Zone” is a realistic movie about modern warfare. Exploding helicopters, torture, abductions, shootings, break-ins, and combat scenes are all a part of the milieu in which Miller and his company operate. That isn’t to say that the actions are justified; they are simply realistic.
It may not be difficult to recognize a particular agenda in the production itself. Scenes such as the one in which a captured Iraqi man (who promises to cooperate with Miller if his family is protected) is abducted by Special Forces and brought to a prison where he is tortured and beaten certainly convey a disapproval of what are deemed “war-time procedures.” The fact that the character of an Iraqi general declares there have been no WMDs in Iraq since 1991 also speaks volumes. However, Green Zone is neither pushy nor offensive with its socio-political commentary. Instead, it provokes thought, and does so on many levels.
Ultimately, Roy Miller leaves behind his orders, and probably his job, to go in search of what he believes is the solution to the crisis in Iraq. Yet, his solution is not the solution the Iraqi people want. Nor is it a solution that the American leadership can easily embrace. One has to wonder: Is doing what you think is right, against all odds, the right thing to do? How does one balance conscience, devotion, daily life, and international concerns?
The movie ends with “Freddy” telling Miller, “It is not for you to decide what happens here.” But as the movie has portrayed, neither the Americans nor the Iraqis have a working solution. For whom, then, is it to decide?
Green Zone is highly recommended to mature adults, especially those interested in moral and ethical issues, international politics, and foreign policy. Of course, fans of Matt Damon in general will be satisfied as well.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.