Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Khalid Abdalla, and Jason Isaacs. Directed by Paul Greengrass.
Rated M (mature themes, violence, and coarse language). 115 min.
This film is based on a book by journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City”, itself based on war in the Green Zone, Baghdad. It is an action thriller set in Iraq, following the invasion of that country by America in 2003. It deals with events that are a part of history, and mingles fiction and fact about war in that country and those who are engaged in it. Tapping into the action genre represented well by “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” the director of those two movies, Paul Greengrass, establishes a packed thriller in this film around events that spill out onto the screen with a relentless pace.
Matt Damon plays the role of Roy Miller, a warrant officer who helps a CIA colleague in the search for weapons of mass destruction. Amy Ryan is a journalist, Lawrie Dayne, who works for “The Wall Street Journal” and who is investigating the US Government’s claims that weapons of mass destruction actually existed in Iraq to justify America’s invasion. Greengrass is reported to have said that “it is never too soon for cinema to engage with events that shape our lives”, but it is hard to distinguish in this movie the elements of fiction that illustrate a good yarn, and those parts of the plot that hide reflective truth about war in general, and the invasion of Iraq, in particular.
History has moved us beyond the issue of whether weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq. Most have the view that such weapons did not exist. The impact of the film lies in how that issue is extended, or best explained, in the aftermath of the invasion that took place. Typical of the Bourne- thriller mode, we learn that conspiracies exist and the honesty of people on both sides, both in and out of Government, cannot be assumed. Around that general premise, the film sets a series of action scenes that are well photographed, tense and highly explosive, and the film’s cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd, brings them effectively to the screen with photography that has grainy realism. The thrill of the chase and violation of trust, so characteristic of the film’s genre, are there in abundance, but the movie would have had more impact if it dealt with pure fiction that had a fantastic story to unfold, or worked reflectively with a provocative version of what happened in fact. It is the mix of fact and fiction that distracts in this film, not the fiction or truth alone. It is no longer an issue whether we should engage with the people of Iraq. History has now absorbed the truth of that issue, and says we should. What matters is how we can achieve that confidence and there is not a lot of “thriller” impact in action development around such a theme. The movie makes the point that the Iraqi people should decide, but paints their politicians as impossible people to trust. But what perhaps irks most about the movie is the fact that American macho aggression is glorified throughout, no matter what side the viewer is on, or the issue that is at stake.
This is a film that carries on the Bourne tradition, and maintains the expected level of tension. Actions sequences abound, and the film will unquestionably entertain. Bourne goes epic in this movie, as the commercial tag-line for the film says, but those who go to see it to be entertained should be prepared to place outside of their mind what is happening in Iraq and to tolerate naivety in the plot-line. This movie has some exciting moments of high adventure, but the mix of factual events and imaginative story-telling in it is not very compelling.
Universal Pictures. Out March 11, 2010
Universal Pictures. Out March 11, 2010
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.