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Green Zone Might Make You See Red

  • Christian Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2010 3 Mar
  • COMMENTS
<i>Green Zone</i> Might Make You See Red

DVD Release Date: June 22, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  March 12, 2010
Rating:  R (for violence and language)
Genre:  Drama, Thriller, War
Run Time:  115 min.
Director:  Paul Greengrass
Actors:  Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Yigol Naor, Said Faraj, Khalid Abdalla, Raad Rawi

The 1980s Rambo franchise brought Sylvester Stallone more fame for his portrayal of a Vietnam vet who fights mistreatment at home and rescues POWs in Asia. Film critics criticized the movies, particularly Rambo: First Blood Part II, suggesting that the films represented a fantasy in which America had a chance to refight—and this time, win—the Vietnam War.

Much of the audience who showed up en masse to see the Rambo movies were too young to remember the truth about America's involvement in Vietnam. Critics feared that core group may have been susceptible to the alternate history presented by Stallone's movies. One main criticism was that the films were too war-happy, too conservative in their vision.

Green Zone, an Iraq War drama that reteams director Paul Greengrass with star Matt Damon, falls into the same trap as Rambo did, but this time from the political left. In the film, a U.S. Army officer tasked with uncovering weapons of mass destruction in Iraq learns that his efforts will never bear fruit because of shady dealings by U.S. officials who falsified intelligence. Angry at this betrayal, he confronts his adversary, rats out the official to a journalist who discovers she's been spun by the same official, and exposes the government's actions before the war escalates.

Set in 2003, the film stars Damon as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, on the ground in Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that, frustratingly, aren't turning up. He quickly concludes that the intelligence on WMD is bad and is not reassured by the insistence from haughty Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) about the accuracy of the intel.

When Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dane (Amy Ryan) befriends Miller, they work together to unearth the identity of a key source on WMD intelligence. CIA agent Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), a grizzled skeptic on U.S. Middle East policy, assists Miller in his efforts to counter Poundstone, while Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), an Iraqi, leads Miller to a group of Saddam Hussein loyalists who could form the core of an insurgency within the country.

The film, employing Greengrass' trademark "shaky-cam" visual approach, throws viewers into the street-level dangers Miller and his men encounter as they search for WMD. However, the action is chaotic and not as coherent as some of Greengrass' earlier films with Damon. Moreover, the timing of the film's release is awkward, as it opens the weekend after Iraqi citizens went to the polls to participate in democratic elections that were broadly hailed as a model for the region. Yet the movie leaves room only for scoffing whenever a character suggests that a democratic Iraq might come from U.S. efforts in the country.

More problematic is the entirely predictable storyline. Anyone who followed the debate over intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War, and in the aftermath of the American occupation, knows the story of Green Zone before it unfolds. It doesn't help that none of the principal characters has more than one dimension. Miller, after a brief early stretch where he clings to the idea that he might turn up WMD, spends the bulk of the film barely containing his righteous fury. Kinnear exudes smarmy arrogance and nothing else. Ryan is a bit better as she slowly discovers that she's been used, but her character isn't in many scenes. (For a more focused, interesting look at the ethics of journalists in exposing sensitive information, see Rod Lurie's Nothing but the Truth.) Best of all is Abdalla, although his character, like Ryan's, drops out of the film for long stretches, particularly toward the film's finale, when his presence is sorely missed.

Greengrass and Damon teamed for two of the Jason Bourne films (The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum), to much better effect. Although the third Bourne film revolved around issues that parallel some of the concerns in Green Zone, its main concern was a character—Jason Bourne—and not a particular international conflict. Green Zone is about an issue—the Iraq War—rather than about its characters, who are less individuals than stand-ins for viewpoints on the war. The good guys and bad guys are never in doubt.

The Iraq War hasn't been a big winner at the box office, but this big-budget star vehicle will put that to the test. Shot by Barry Ackroyd—who also was the director of photography on Kathyrn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker—the film often looks great, even though the film's rapid editing doesn't allow viewers to linger long on any one shot.

Given that The Hurt Locker, fresh off its Best Picture Oscar victory, is being re-released the same week that Green Zone debuts, audiences have a clear choice: They can see Greengrass' obvious, highly political film that screams, "Bush lied! People died!" or they can watch Bigelow's apolitical depiction of soldiers in the battlefield and the complex toll such a lifestyle can take on a soldier's psyche.

One film is preachy, one subtle. One tells, the other shows. The better choice is obvious:  Go with the clear winner.

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@verizon.net.

CAUTIONS:  

  • Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; lots of foul language, including several uses of the "f" word.
  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs: Beer drinking.
  • Sex/Nudity: None; poolside images of women in bikinis.
  • Violence/Crime: Gunfire, explosions, bombs and other war violence; sniper fire; man hit with butt of a gun, then slapped; helicopter shot down; abuse of suspects detained on battlefield.