Roy Miller (Damon) tracks down WMDs in Iraq's militarised green zone. Frustrated by another empty warehouse, he questions the intel. But no-show weaponry is there, the top brass say. Look harder. Teaming with disgruntled military adviser Brendan Gleeson, Damon wages a covert war on his own superiors. But with US policy at stake, nemesis Jason Isaacs will nail him first. If he can.
Greengrass has a flair for gritty politico-action. The Bourne movies – Supremacy and Ultimatum - were pacy, genre-defining films. United 93 followed the last few minutes of a downed 9/11 plane. Documentary sensibilities give his films a fresh, immediate feel. But he does love his handheld camera.
So while Green Zone is an ideal film for the director’s vision, his fuzzy aesthetic makes it hard to watch. Disappointing, as Brian Helgeland’s script is punchy and Damon brings credibility to his non-Bourne good-guy hero.
And Greengrass can crank up the tension: Miller’s impromptu raid on an insurgents’ safe-house is palm-sweating. So too is Isaacs’ shakedown when he suspects Miller of hiding an enemy intel code book. Such febrile, powder-keg moments are palpable. It’s Green Zone’s strongest card.
But the film’s politics are well-worn, straight from the Guardian or Independent. Or at least the Washington Post - based as it is on a book by the Post’s chief Baghdad Office reporter. It’s almost too uncontroversial. Other such Iraqi issues-films – like Rendition – were more keenly felt. And it lacks The Hurt Locker’s finely-balanced portrayal of action and reaction.
Action there is - but it’s hard to see it. And while the showdown finale is impressively staged, the fudged and filtered visuals distance you from it - the reverse effect to Greengrass’ good intentions.
Solid, tough and with its heart in the right place, it’s a passably entertaining entry in the heat, dust and democracy movies coming out of America. Courting no controversy – there aren’t many who still think WMDs are there – it’s playing to the crowd. Fair enough. But while the light politicking whets the popular appetite – the sub-Bourne action fails to feed it.