Matt Damon has a knack for being unassuming. It’s a talent that has been put to good use in The Talented Mr. Ripley and Ocean’s Eleven. I’m never certain if Matt Damon, the actor, is just as unassuming or if he’s just that good of an actor. In Green Zone he plays Captain Miller, an American soldier intent on finding answers in Iraq circa 2003. Damon’s Captain is cool but not pushy. As he marches through the film I am aware that I’m watching Matt Damon, but I’m also willing to believe that I’m watching the actions of a real soldier. Paradoxical? Naturally. Maybe I started this review on the wrong foot, for Green Zone is a film that depends on factors that are not all Matt Damon.
I remember someone referring to Green Zone as a film from the “shaky cam” genre (a la The Hurt Locker or A Mighty Heart). The thing is, though, as accurate a definition as that would be, it marginalises the film. Green Zone, is not a film for the unfocused. Helgeland’s script is uninterested in spelling anything out to the audience and if you don’t know the story he doesn’t condescend to spoon feed it to you. It’s not that the narrative is particularly difficult to follow; but if you’re not willing to pay keen attention you could easily miss some important details. Then, there’s the fact that it all occurs amidst an overwhelmingly authentic sound design. If The Hurt Locker could have swept the sound categories (undeservedly, I might add) Green Zone should be a shoo-in for a nod, but of course that’s not likely.
Admittedly, the film is anchored by Damon’s performance, even though I’m well aware that the term anchored may be an overstatement. Damon’s performance is good, effective even. But Greengrass is not interested in turning this into the story of a David against the Goliath’s of the world (even if the poster suggests otherwise). Damon is obviously the lead of the film, but the supporting cast are important. Greg Kinnear avoids the stock characterisation his role could have implied, and in the process he creates a moderately impressive villain. Brendan Gleeson is similarly good and Eastern actor Khallid Abdalla lends the right amount of pathos to his conflicted character. I will admit, the purported presence of the lovely Amy Ryan was a major reason I was interested in seeing this film. As it turns out (I should have expected) her role is not big, but like her short turns in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Changeling she carves a realistic being with just a few scenes to her name.
The unfortunate reality is, though, owing to the almost journalistic nature of Green Zone it has a tendency to come as decidedly ephemeral. As well intentioned as it is, there is a certain lack of profundity that pervades. As good an effort as it is I don’t think I’d be moved to see it again. But I think it’s worthy of being seen at least once…provided you go with your brain.