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Greg Kinnear (left) and Matt Damon in "Green Zone."

Green Zone

Political thriller about Iraq war shows the limits of exporting democracy

By Patricia Ingold

Green Zone
Directed by Paul Greengrass
(Working Title Films)

It’s hard to resist a film that presents CNN as America’s most valuable ally in Iraq. The media’s role in selling the conflict is only one of many subtle observations in Green Zone, a provocative political thriller set during the weeks following the 2003 invasion.

Justification for the war is the supposed existence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. As the film opens, the U.S. Army is understandably nervous, because despite having a solid source of military intelligence, no WMDs have been found.

The army’s plan is to speed up the search. But Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who heads a WMD team, angers his superiors by suggesting the intelligence is faulty. His talks with a CIA warhorse and a journalist only deepen the intrigue, and soon Miller is defying orders by bringing in an Iraqi general who knows the truth about WMD.

With Morocco and Spain standing in for Iraq, hand-held cameras follow Miller as he charges through bombed-out buildings in a frenzied search for WMDs. There is also a harrowing night pursuit that ends in an assassination. But don’t expect a conventional war story. In Green Zone, military uniforms share the screen with business suits.

Throughout the film, director Paul Greengrass defies expectations. He believes the war is unjust, but he doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make the point. He honours a soldier’s choice to be “there to do a job” but also gives us a protagonist who thinks seriously about the consequences of war. And Greengrass avoids stereotyping the film’s American villain. In fact, all of his characters are straightforward and unpretentious.

Green Zone is well served by actors Matt Damon as Miller and Greg Kinnear as Clark Poundstone, the unassuming architect of deceit. Khalid Abdalla portrays an Iraqi patriot who is the film’s most eloquent voice of reason.

Green Zone has been labelled anti-American and criticized for its fictionalization of real-life characters and events. But it’s difficult to dismiss a film that relentlessly shows the limits of exporting democracy. On the issue of war, Green Zone feels right. The truth is obvious long before the final fadeout.

Patricia Ingold is a member of The Observer staff in Toronto.

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