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The Green Zone: A Review

March 19, 2010

I like Matt Damon. A lot. I think this is partly because I subconsciously still compare him to Ben Affleck, and considering the trajectory of their personal and professional lives, Matt Damon comes across as a legend. But I also ❤ Matt Damon because his politics is well-thought out, and he’s not afraid to intelligently express his views. And so, I was quite excited to find out he’s starring in a movie about the Iraq war: The Green Zone.

In a nutshell, the Green Zone tells the story of Roy Miller (Matt Damon), who, while looking for weapons of mass destruction, slowly begins to realize that these WMDs may not exist. Soon enough, Matt Damon’s character is running around Baghdad like a chicken with his head cut off, determined, in a way only a privileged American could, to ‘get to the bottom of the story’. I say this because I couldn’t picture a scenario where an Iraqi would be able to do half the stunts this American character could do without being killed– and yet Americans see nothing wrong with running through the streets of a foreign country as if they own the place, with little regard to their privilege in being able to do so. But this discussion is for another entry.

The movie slowly becomes a story of the various motivations and reactions to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, highlighting how various people on all sides reacted and responded to the war. From Baathist generals, US officials, Western journalists, and regular Iraqis, the movie perfectly captures the varying agendas and motivations, both personal and political, that shape the conduct of war. A brilliant study of human flaws and the scramble for power and survival that takes place in conflict, it successfully portrays the shades of gray that both news (and Hollywood) coverage of the war on Iraq never quite managed to do. The Iraq war was never as simple as the US vs. Iraq, or the West vs. the Arab world. The Green Zone does a good job of capturing both how some Americans felt about the war, but more importantly, how some Iraqis felt about the invasion, which was, at least initially, not as clear-cut as those on both sides of the global political spectrum wanted it to be. This is exemplified most clearly through the main Iraqi character, Fareed, or ‘Freddy’ as Matt Damon’s character refers to him, who is one of the most memorable film characters I have seen in quite a while.

But I couldn’t help but feel like it was one big orgy of violence. Except the violence was based on real life. It all felt a bit self-satisfying. It was like listening to Bob Geldof talk about the plight of Africa to the backdrop of fly-infested African children writhing in the dirt. I could leave satisfied that I’d helped (by donating money, or listening, or simply agreeing with what is being said), but in the end I had only eased any guilt I felt by watching people less fortunate than me suffer, and acknowledge their suffering. Even the movie’s official website looks like a trailer for Modern Warfare 2, which is slightly disturbing given that we’re dealing with a real war here.

Liberal or not, The Green Zone is ultimately war porn. It worked with the Bourne movies, because those movies were escapism: it was fine that people were blown up and killed, because the Bourne movies existed in a fantasy land. But blending in the action-style sequences of the Bourne movies with real life just left me feeling angry and emotional, and not in the good way. The movie, for those who have seen it, ends on a ‘good’ note, but the fact that the ending was happy made me feel like both I, and the entire population of Iraq, had been cheated somehow, especially when ones juxtaposes the ‘happy’ ending of the movie with the sad realities of modern day Iraq. And let’s face it, seven years into the Iraq war, we need more from political filmmakers than an angry fist shaken in the Bush administration’s direction.

At the end of it all, leaving the theater, I was left with the same feeling I get after sitting in front of Chat Roulette for too long: the hollowed out feeling of voyeuristic exploitation. Except with even more dicks.

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