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March 21, 2010

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A new Iraq film, only sillier

ALL the war-zone authenticity in the Arab world cannot salvage the silly Hollywood plot at the heart of "Green Zone," Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass' first collaboration outside the Jason Bourne realm.

Their thriller about the futile search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is a visual and visceral knockout that is utterly deflated by a story as common, coarse and unappetizing as Army field rations.

The movie pales further by arriving in theaters just days after the Academy Awards triumph of the vastly superior Iraq war story "The Hurt Locker."

"Green Zone" emulates the let's-build-a-democracy-just-like-ours intent of the US occupation of Iraq in 2003, as chronicled in The Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," a book cited in credits as the film's inspiration.

Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland have taken a setting rich with novel dramatic possibilities and made up a fictional action tale just like any other, with the same lame plot contrivances and the same stiff, artificial characters.

You have the incorruptible working-class patriot in Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon), who leads a WMD team frustrated that detailed intelligence reports continually fail to turn up any traces of Saddam Hussein's supposed arsenals. You have the sniveling, scheming bureaucrat in Pentagon intelligence man Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) and a clash with his honorable nemesis in CIA man Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson). OK, so the CIA good guy thing is kind of new.

You have the cliched journalist in reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), who seems incapable of piecing together a story unless it is handed to her in a neat folder marked "top secret." And you have the Special Forces thug in Lt Col Briggs (Jason Isaacs).

We all know now the weapons that prompted the invasion of Iraq did not exist. The film makers concoct a simple-minded WMD conspiracy to explain the bad intelligence reports, then lob Miller into the middle of it. Miller's encounter with well-meaning Iraqi "Freddy" (Khalid Abdalla) leads him to one of Saddam's top aides, who holds the key to exposing the conspiracy.

Other than Abdalla, who captures a sense of Iraqis' conflicted emotions over Saddam's overthrow and the US occupation, Damon and his co-stars deliver nothing more than serviceable performances. The roles do not call for much more, Ryan in particular stuck trying to make her few shallow lines sound meaningful.

The WMD debacle was a colossal intelligence failure that Greengrass and company dilute to a base Hollywood plot device so they can turn the boys loose in Baghdad with all the firepower a big studio budget can muster. And there's barely a story to hold "Green Zone" together, the movie just hurtling through fire fights and chases, pausing for breath with the occasional revelation to prod Miller on in his quest.


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