By Daniel Garrett
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Khalid Abdalla,
Brendan Gleeson, and Amy Ryan
Universal Pictures, 2009
Matt Damon, the star of Good Will Hunting and Hereafter, is likely to be one of the film legends of tomorrow. His choices in roles are diverse, entertaining, intelligent, and relevant; and his performances are rooted in his own character and in real world behavior. Film by film, he becomes more associated with quality as much as pleasure. In Paul Greengrass’s Green Zone, Matt Damon plays a soldier in Iraq assigned to look for weapons of mass destruction and, when finding again and again no weapons at the sites where they are reported to be, the soldier is convinced that the army has been given bad intelligence. The film is one more dramatic demonstration of how power works, or rather, how it does not work: government bureaucracy, the military, and journalists do not live up to the best ideals. Through the film’s story—through investigation—Damon’s soldier will learn that the intelligence is a lie, that the Iraqis had rid themselves of weapons of mass destruction and had no active plans to produce more, but that those facts were misrepresented to Washington and the world by American bureaucrats eager for war.
The film Green Zone is history in the form of an action-and-mystery thriller; and its wheels begin to turn when a young Iraqi man (Khalid Abdalla, giving a performance colored by honesty, pride, and sensitivity) tells Matt Damon’s frustrated soldier that he has seen a meeting of Saddam Hussein’s men. Damon and his crew go, arrest some of those men, get the willing ear of Brendan Gleeson’s honest but surprisingly powerless intelligence agent, and come into conflict with Greg Kinnear’s manipulative bureaucrat, who has led at least one journalist (Amy Ryan) to water she should have chosen not to drink. Everyone wants to find a top Iraqi general, who knows the truth about weapons of mass destruction: in this case, that there were and are none; and that this was known, but lied about. There are deceptions and beatings and exchanges of gunfire—but the most significant thing that happens in the film is the telling of an important but unpopular truth. Yet, there is a finger to be pointed toward a place where it is rarely pointed: toward the American people, whose conservatism, ignorance, and prejudice make it possible for lies to be invented, told, circulated, and believed. What is one to say of an electorate that cannot understand sane and serious public policy, whether it is explained with complexity or simplicity, at length or briefly, once or a thousand times? What can one expect of a populace that prefers seeing the worst of themselves in their elected officials, rather than the best in society—and so finds an elegant and intellectual man absolutely foreign?
Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today. Daniel Garrett wrote comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader; and on international film for Offscreen and Cinetext. Garrett originated two internet logs: one focused on culture and social issues, “City and Country, Boy and Man,” and one focused on books, “The Garrett Reader.” He has been writing a novel, A Stranger on Earth.