Stalled in the red zone

Moviegoers who believe as I do that the war in Iraq was a tragic and criminal contrivance of the American government and the George W. Bush administration will find “Green Zone”  satisfying as entertainment yet frustrating in substance. 

In football parlance, this fast-action thriller zipped into the red zone but didn’t score.

The film tells the nasty story of a military detachment in Baghdad searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction shortly after the U.S. invasion.  The leader of the unit is Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon).  He is nearly everything America says it admires.  He is a brave, dedicated, highly-skilled specialist in WMD.  

On the other hand, Miller is something ultra-patriotic Americans abhor.  He has an alert, open  mind.  And he soon becomes cynical after U.S. intelligence leads him astray on three straight missions.  No WMD. 

After a fourth failure, Miller at last finds a reliable source of information.  It is, of all people, “Freddy,” a patriotic Iraqi crippled years ago by his country’s war with Iran.  Suddenly the viewer is faced with a dilemma.  Are there two Americas?  A good one, in the dutiful Miller, and a bad one (think “evil-doers”), in the slimy, plotting intelligence officer Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear who plays the part with admirable skill). 

Poundstone works his propaganda magic in what initially was then called the Green Zone, the heavily-fortified Baghdad home to the ruling civilian authority operated by the U.S. and Great Britain and their consulting firms.  The film’s title is the director’s way of saying the war was run by politics. 

Freddy, though often angered and bewildered by the mixed bag of American actions, helps Miller uncover a U.S. government plot facilitated by Poundstone to assassinate an Iraqi military general, Al Rawi, and a handful of associates. 

 The naive Al Rawi believes until the last moment the Americans will eventually reward him.  Why?  Because he has told them the truth prior to the war, that WMD no long existed in Iraq.   He does not know the Americans always wanted a lie.  They desperately wanted an authoritative voice, like Al Rawi’s, to say, yes, WMD exists. 

That’s how the war was sold to the gullible American public.  Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld told us over and over despite no hard proof, Iraq had WMD and therefore posed a threat to America in the light of 9/11.  In fact, there is a news clip that appears in the middle of the film showing Bush uttering one of his “mission accomplished” speeches about the war.

The film’s climax then depicts Miller’s efforts to save Al Rawi before the chief plotter, Poundstone, and the U.S. forces can get to him.  Not only save him but to show American the truth, that the war was built on a lie. 

The ending brings on a surreal moment.  If  you the American viewer buys in to Greengrass’s assertions, then you have to take sides between the two Americas.  You may find yourself as I did pulling against the traditional U.S. Army and for the ad hoc military group led by Chief Miller.

It is an interesting movie, but the director Greengrass speaks to the choir.  It will draw few if any from the patriotic far right.  If it does, those viewers will pack up and leave early in the movie.

Most sympathizers of the “Green Zone” already realize the Bush adminstration lied about the reasons for going to war.  This quick-action film fosters a theory, a little tweak, on how it was done.  There is even the obligatory Wall Street Journal reporter, a symbol of the timid media’s role as Bush administration enabler. 

In the portrayl of Freddy, the film provides a true glimpse into the complexities facing ordinary citizens of the mideast.  To them, it is all smoke and mirrors.  Near the end, the well-intentioned Freddy kills the only hope Iraq has to avoid occupation and to discredit the wrongful American invasion.  Then says in ignorance, he wants his country, not the U.S.. to decide Iraq’s future.  He played right into the hands of “bad America.”

What is frustrating about “Green Zone,” if you can call it that, is the dead-end to which it leads.  The film begs the question:  What was the “true” rationale for warring with Iraq, while not taking care of business first with Al Qaeda in Tora Bora?  Why would America not seek to punish the believed villains of 9/11? 

Skilled film-makers who concentrate on the next level, the dark inner workings of the Bush administration leading up to the war, will capture much appreciation from us, the skeptics, but of course only derision from “patriots.”    Just another Hollywood hatchet-job, they will say.

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