Green Zone is a war film with a message, one that is most certainly not about the honors or glories of war but rather the reasons and justifications for war that might be manufactured to create support for invasions or conflicts. As more and more members of the press and politicians push their dogmatic views on the Iraq War into the public, it's important for films like Green Zone to be produced.
Directed by Paul Greengrass and inspired by Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City, the story revolves around Chief Roy Miller (Matt Damon) whose role in Iraq is to lead missions to find the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that were touted as the justification for going to war. After following intelligence reports multiple times that lead to empty sites with no WMD at all, Miller makes the choice to raise the issue at a briefing.
In a scene featuring Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq War veteran and executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Miller explains to other soldiers how he believes the intelligence is flawed. Of course, he is told it is not his job to discern whether the intelligence is faulty or not; he is simply to follow orders and carry out missions as they are handed down.
Miller's curiosity and urge for the truth drives him from this point on. A key turning point comes when he happens upon an Iraqi, "Freddy," who has information he wishes to give to U.S. soldiers. Freddy discloses to Miller that there is a meeting with Baathist generals who used to serve Saddam. Miller chooses to follow this information and go somewhere where he is certain he might find answers to why he is in Iraq fighting a war.
Freddy, who becomes a translator for Miller, is possibly one of the most dynamic portrayals of an Iraqi in the history of American cinema. The conflict that Freddy faces--whether to help and allow U.S. soldiers to set the agenda for his country or not--is presented in a profound way. Freddy's character gets to the core issue that trumps all discussion of why America went to war in Iraq; it gets at the fact that America may not have a right to stay and finish "liberating" Iraq even if its leaders admit to manufacturing consent for invading Iraq.
This film stands in contrast to Hurt Locker, a recent Academy Award-winning film that depicted what the war has been like for soldiers in Iraq. Green Zone's story is less about the human experience of the soldiers. The shots do not hang on the faces of individuals who are trying to come to grips with feelings of anguish, anxiety, fear, exhaustion, and pain.
The aesthetics do not allow us to get inside the minds of the U.S. soldiers fighting. Instead, the story brings attention to the power politics, internal politics between the CIA and the Pentagon, the press' role in the war, the Green Zone officials' disconnect with the nation of Iraq which the officials are claiming to liberate, etc.
Two characters, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), member of Pentagon Special Intelligence, and Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), member of the CIA, present audiences with two examples of officials involved. Poundstone represents officials who knowingly lied and told others what they wanted to hear so that the war would have justification. Brown represents officials who had a grasp on the regional politics of Iraq, knew that organizations like the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) had the potential to turn Iraq into a quagmire, wanted to take decisive action to hold the country of Iraq together.
In the end, it's the press--the public relations aspect or the propaganda, that is just as frustrating if not as frustrating as the role Poundstone plays in the war. Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, is a reporter who wrote the news story citing a source with the pseudonym "Magellan" who provided information on the location of WMD in Iraq. Dayne wrote stories in the run-up to the war that led many people to accept the idea that Iraq had WMD.
Dayne is comparable to Judith Miller, the New York Times journalist who cited "American officials" and "American intelligence experts" as sources for her news story on Iraq's pursuit of nuclear weapons in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, a news story that turned out to be, at best, unreliable and, at worst, totally manufactured. "Magellan," Dayne's source, is evocative of "Curveball", an Iraqi citizen that was supposedly an engineer who provided intelligence on biological and chemical weapons in Iraq, which created elements of the pretense for invading Iraq.
Like Judith Miller, Lawrie Dayne would like most to believe that journalists are only to tell people what government officials think and not question the intelligence reports she is given. She would tell soldiers like Chief Miller that journalists are not to independently assess the information, question sources, and analyze information before reporting. (In fact, there is a key scene where Chief Miller takes great issue with the fact that Dayne reported what spotty intelligence as truth without fact checking it.)
It is surprising how Miller ends up utilizing the press as a means for getting out what really happened. Despite the fact that Miller is fully aware of Dayne's failure, he still believes the press can come through and fulfill its role as the Fourth Estate and report on the truth even if the truth counters the reality that those in power have engineered and wish to continue to maintain as truth.
Any film that puts images and ideas related to the war in Iraq (in fact all wars in the Middle East) in front of the general public and pushes them to reflect on the war in addition to being entertained is to be celebrated. After all, the news media don't exactly saturate Americans with images of war in Iraq and they most definitely do not provide narratives that are critical of the missions in Iraq. (Plus, how many Americans still believer there were WMD in Iraq?)
This is not a story of resistance. This is no story of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia or former Marine Brian Casler or any other Iraq war resister whose story can be found in Dahr Jamail's book The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. This film takes on the overwhelming conventional wisdom that what leaders provide as reason for war prior to the beginning of war is often truth.
As "glorifying, propagandistic Newsweek cover stor[ies]" and "faux regret" is abandoned, as the dead innocent people and the destruction in Iraq made to seem entirely irrelevant, and as the real purpose of the war becomes mired in dogma that suggests the death and destruction will some day be worth it to Iraqis because they are being given the gift of freedom and democracy, a film like the Green Zone challenges that narrative asking critical questions.
The same people who cheered and supported the idea of war in Iraq 7 to 8 years ago will no doubt point to Green Zone's performance at the box office this weekend and suggest once again (as they have previously) that Iraq war films are not profitable. Nonetheless, more filmswhich trip up the war apologistsshould be put out there. Until an ultra right-wing Texas Education Board adopts history books explicitly lauding American jingoism in Iraq and the courage of President George W. Bush, those who author culture have a great potential to challenge social memory.
Those with deep anger and frustration like Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon should do just that: challenge the official framework for conversation on the wars in Iraq (and especially in Afghanistan). The more those embedded in American culture question the wars, the more the public will.