With three years now passed since 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum assaulted its audience with ridiculous hand-held cinematography and enough bad editing to make one nauseated, it seems director Paul Greengrass feels we are ready for the next instalment in his quest to destroy our balance centres. Green Zone takes the problems of Greengrass’ two Bourne films and magnifies them, producing a film that is barely watchable.
As a long-time critic of his shooting style, some (perhaps Stuart) will accuse me of having a vendetta against this filmmaker, however this could not be further from the truth. Bloody Sunday is a wonderful film, and is shot in a similar style to the latter Bourne films and now Green Zone. This latest, however, starts out with a premise that feels right – what if the Bush administration knew there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq but decided to invade anyway? – and takes a film with the potential to be great and destroys it. Green Zone’s 115 minutes seem like an overlong rollercoaster ride, and not in a good way: never have I felt so physically unwell after a film than after this one.
The fundamental and inescapable issue with Green Zone is this: the audience is expecting a film, not a radio-play. They’ve paid to see your film, Mr Greengrass, and you’ve let them down. Some sequences are shot at night without any light source to allow the cameras to focus, resulting in a grainy, blurred image of someone chasing someone else, and then all sorts of hand-to-hand fighting and gunplay, and you simply can’t tell who is fighting whom, with what, and who’s winning.
It seems remarkable that the film was shot by Barry Ackroyd, the man responsible for filming the wonderful The Hurt Locker and who was robbed of a Best Cinematography Oscar by the idiots who think cinematography is something that occurs inside a computer’s CPU. The Hurt Locker uses handheld cameras in a way that enhances the effect of the visuals on screen, whereas Green Zone uses the technique to make an unwatchable mess.
Matt Damon does a reasonable job of turning Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller into a character one can empathise with, although he might need to consider broadening his choices – three Bourne-type films by the same director is a risk, and roles in smaller films like Invictus and The Informant! may not be enough to dilute the sense that he is best playing a killing machine. Poor old Jason Isaacs, on the other hand, is saddled with a role that is the textbook definition of ‘one-dimensional’, and it is hard to work out what an actor of his class gains from a supporting role like this. Khalid Abdalla is allowed the most nuance in his character Freddy, and he continues to impress after his strong lead performance in The Kite Runner.
The strongest moments of Green Zone are those in which Greengrass chooses to make overt political statements, and these scenes point to the great shame of the film: Green Zone could have been the definitive take on the hubris and deception of the US administration at the time of the invasion of Iraq, but Greengrass’ decision to make this a poorly shot action thriller degrades its worth to almost nothing. While it is easy to demonstrate the stupidity of George W Bush and his gang by counterposing the insurgency against his ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech, it is an effective point about the failure of planning that occurred. The final sequence in which the triumphant adminstrator Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) gets to glimpse what he has wrought, however, is priceless.Rating: