Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Green Zone (2010)

Roger Ebert had something to say in his review of Paul Greengrass's thriller which made me sit and ponder a while:

"By limiting the characters and using typecasting, he makes a web of deceit easy to understand."

It's an analysis that caught my attention at a time when I have been giving extra thought to the use of archetypes in fiction and to this intriguing paradox as well: that some of the most strikingly original characters one comes across in 'real life' appear at first glance to have stepped straight out of central casting.

The trouble is that although there's a degree of truth in Ebert's observation, what Greengrass has done here is to make the plot easier to follow, not the "web of deceit" easier to understand. The use of stereotypes actually makes it harder for the general audience to engage at a deeper level with the background story.

And this, the credits inform us, has been lifted from the excellent Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (which I reviewed back in March 2008), a darkly comic exposé of the folly of American policy in the immediate aftermath of 'victory'. Crucially Chandrasekaran's primary focus is on the immediate consequences of the invasion rather than the facts behind its conception, and this, I would contend, is because these are ultimately more important for us to take on board in the long term.

Arguing over whether the grounds for intervention were kosher or not is ultimately a little pointless: I could tell you the war was ilegal and you could disagree with me and we'd not really make much progress after that. People will continue to contend at dinner parties that "It was all about the oil..." or "we invaded Iraq simply because..." but I can guarantee you that serious academic historians working in a half century from now will be pursuing more multi-layered explanations of the origins of this inherently controversial venture.

So when at the end we see Matt Damon diligently emailing hacks around the world with the big news that the Neocons made up all the stories about Saddam's WMDs, we probably have enough of a sense of how things have since moved on to think, so what? And so Greengrass has missed a chance to get to grips with the deeper absurdities perpetrated by Cheyne, Rumsfeld and their underqualified henchmen. But then he does thrillers not satires.

Jason Isaacs's Frankie-say War tache is also extremely distracting.

Grade: B+

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