FILM: GREEN ZONE [USA?] Dir. Paul Greengrass

In Gupter Puncher/Oli Johns on February 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm

GREEN ZONE ****     Bourne is temporary, class is permanent?

Director: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Matt Damon, Jason Isaacs, British-born Middle Eastern actors pretending to be Iraqi working class, Jensen Ackles


   It’s interesting, this film, if you look at it from inside Matt Damon’s head. I mean, I know we can’t ever know exactly what he’s thinking, but I think I might have a pretty good idea. Think about it. He’s famous from Bourne, he wrote the Will Hunting film so he’s a smart guy…Affleck wrote it too, and he’s got some smarts, but I figure Damon as being the prime mover…he’s a good actor, he plays well with the Clooney-Pitt publicity dynamic…you know when they fuck around in the press conferences and never give a straight answer and Pitt calls Mel Gibson ‘Sugar tits’, that kind of thing? But Damon goes a little further…he’s getting a reputation as one of the best character actors out there, edging ahead of Clooney I’d say…Clooney’s good, but I don’t think he’s got the range Damon has…so, Damon, he’s smart, he’s making good films, he knows all the right directors, yet there’s one thing he can’t shake. Bourne.

   I don’t know if it’s a huge problem, but as we’re in Damon’s head, we’ve gotta look at it skewed. It is a problem for him, as he’s trying to sustain his career…the rest of us don’t really give a shit if he comes or goes…I mean, I like the guy and his films, but it’s not like he can’t be replaced by the next guy in line…but for Damon, he’s seen what’s happening to Tom Cruise and he’s scared…he needs to be a Paul Newman, and the way Cruise is going downhill fast makes him think his own time might be cut short too…so, in his films, he has to keep it fresh, keep it different…

   Now, in this film, he’s kinda fucked himself a little, and also been fucked by events…and that’s the thing that Damon can’t control…I reckon he’s the type that gets off on the idea of dictating the course of his fame, just like I would if I ever got that far, but it’s also an anxiety for him…the idea that things can’t be controlled…that zippy chaos that someone like Jack Nic might get off on, I think that terrifies Damon…which is kind of ironic as that’s what got him in the hot seat in the first place, the happy accident of Good Will Hunting…well, I think it was an accident….didn’t Robin Williams find the script while he was on the shitter in Dennys? I don’t know, that might just be rumour…but back to Damon self-fucking…

   Green Zone. He knew the director was gonna be Paul Greengrass, the same guy who did the last two Bournes. He knew the character would be a soldier, not identical but similar to Bourne. He knew he would have the same haircut as Bourne. He might not have known, but he probably should’ve, that the marketing team behind this film would use Bourne as much as they could…so, on the poster you get huge titles saying shit about the Bourne team reunited and a tagline saying Matt Damon is through with taking orders, just like Bourne. Although, to be fair, Bourne, didn’t really know he had any orders so he never had the chance to be through with taking them. But, in short, the similarities are glaring, and you have to wonder why Damon took this role.

   I do actually have a theory why…it just came to me now, as I was writing that last line about Matt Damon not taking orders…see, what if Damon is sick of people asking for a Bourne 4 so to pre-empt it he’s making this one to act like a replica Bourne 4, which will calm people down for a while, and maybe, if the film does badly, it will make them stop asking for another Bourne…then he’s a free bird. Is Damon capable of this kind of manipulation? I don’t know, but I think he’s thinking about it pretty much every day…how to stay on top, how to be Paul Newman, how to survive his 40s etc…

   Okay, I should mention the film, I guess…and yes, I have seen it…I know I’ve gone on a bit about Damon’s motivation, but I find the whole psychology of being a star interesting…and, fuck it, it’s relevant to the film in a way…follow me and I’ll explain…if you’re still reading…

   If you don’t know the plot of this, Matt Damon is a soldier in Iraq, who’s given orders to go find the WMDs that started the whole thing…this is set just after the statue of Saddham has been vandalised, 2003, I think…so Damon starts the film in the Green Zone, which doesn’t actually have that much green, but is as safe as safe can be in a war-zone, and he has to go outside the Green Zone to find the shit that never really existed in the first place…so he goes, and he meets a lot of nasty people, and Jason Isaacs as a superior officer with a huge moustache…seriously, it’s bigger than you’re expecting, and I don’t know how long it took Isaacs to grow it, but I can see why he did…you remember him even more because of it, and it makes Damon look ordinary, which is what Isaacs must’ve been aiming for…I mean, if we dip inside his head for a minute then you see how he’s been pissing about in bit-parts for the last ten years and this is his chance to show what he’s got…he was even in some piece of shit BBC series a couple of years back and that just won’t get him anywhere…so when he got the call for this, he couldn’t just be any soldier, he had to make himself stand out, and he does…

   Anyway, back to Damon…he drives around the scummier parts of Baghdad and tortures some people a little, and gets tortured in return and eventually finds out there are no WMDs…I don’t think this is really a spoiler as we all knew this anyway, and why else would he not take orders anymore? It’s fucking obvious, so I don’t feel bad at all about saying it, and it happens halfway through anyway, so there’s still another half of the film I haven’t ruined…so, Damon gets pissed off and you think, he’s gonna use his Bourne skills now…but he doesn’t, he can’t, because of what I said earlier…he doesn’t want to be Bourne. And this is the paradox of his character: He’s clearly Bourne, but at the same time he’s not Bourne. He’s schizophrenic. One scene he’s beating the shit out of some Iraqi guy, the next scene he’s getting beaten by Isaacs…there’s no consistency in the beatings, which might be realistic in a way, but it’s also confusing…can he do Bourne-fu or can’t he? Yes he can, but then no he can’t.

   I don’t know how much of this is down to Damon and how much is down to Greengrass, or how much is down to the studios even…I know they want Bourne 4 because when do they ever give a shit about diminishing standards of quality? But Greengrass has to take some of the blame for putting Damon in this and using the same camera moves as the Bourne films, and Damon has to know that he brought this on himself by signing up for a military role…but then, perhaps this side of the film is all in my head? Is Damon really schizophrenic in this? Maybe he doesn’t have Bourne in his head at all, and maybe it’s all in mine…but is it? I don’t know, I’d really need to meet an honest Matt Damon to find out…maybe catch him off guard in a bar somewhere and ask him…or get him to read an honest book like ‘The Book of Disquiet’ and then ask him, really, how much do you think about all this celebrity stuff? How far would you go to get away from Bourne?

   But taking all this psych stuff away, is the film really no good? Not at all. I was entertained pretty much all the way through…the torture scenes were a bit familiar…we’ve seen Clooney and DiCaprio tortured in shitty middle-eastern housing estates, and now we see Damon getting his eyelashes pulled out…I’m not even sure if that’s painful, but Damon sells it well…and the rest of the film was shot like a war correspondent might have shot it, so you’re not always sure what’s happening and where Damon’s got to, but it doesn’t frustrate as much as did in the Bourne fight scenes. In fact, there’s one chase scene where Damon gets so far ahead of Greengrass’ camera that it actually stops in the middle of the street and pans around to look for him, but it actually adds to the drama of the chase instead of working against it.

   What else? I guess pretty much all of what I’ve just said…Damon is in two minds throughout the whole thing, Greengrass is swirling around like a drunk behind the camera, and Isaacs acts out all he’s got and comes across as a tougher guy than anyone else, which I guess was his mission statement. And for an Iraq film, it stays well away from the politics, which makes a nice change…so, none of those ‘you Americans are so naïve’ speeches from Iraqi bad guys, just Iraqi guys who might be good or might be bad. We don’t know, and neither does Damon.

  1. I generally like Damon’s work. I would support him for no other reason than he was a family friend of Howard Zinn and sought to develop People’s History of the United States into a movie or miniseries.

  2. I find Affleck to be the more interesting and smarter of the two. His Gone baby gone was great and his appearances on TV (whether talking about politics or just being a plain hilarious storyteller are just dynamic… whereas Damon is kind of blah). but Affleck’s going to run for office in the future, so I guess I should focus on Damon as far as acting is concerned. Interesting analysis, though.

  3. PD – What’s the People’s History of the US? Seems like a hard thing to put together…

    Jen – Affleck’s okay, but Damon’s come out on top in the interviews I’ve seen. If you read him in a mag like ‘Empire’ where they really focus on film and not gossip, well mostly, he can really talk the talk.


    • Oli – People’s History of the US is Howard Zinn’s Magnum Opus. It’s a history of the US from the people’s perspective, Indians, slaves, workers, foot soldiers, class struggle. It’s pretty well known among radicals over here.

  4. PD – That sounds decent, I’ll see if HK library has it. Though it has to be overwhelmingly negative, right?

  5. I heart Zinn. I also heart Damon.
    I liked Affleck for calling the Democrats pussies.
    Oli, I want to see this film now.

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