Saturday, March 27, 2010

Greengrass Zone

Paul Greengrass (the Bourne films, United 93) is interested in conflict at its most intruiguing, its most political. This has worked wonders for his career. No mean feat, the man -- with assists from Matt Damon and Robert Ludlum -- made the James Bond franchise copy his vision, and that has to count for something. What Greengrass lacks in pacing and patience and camera technique* he makes up for with kinetic films -- films which propel ahead, often with cursory nods to characterization or believeability, but always with a drumming sense of purpose, a call to arms.

All well and good, except that Paul Greengrass has made three films based on actual events: Bloody Sunday (2002), about the 1972 Irish civil rights protest; United 93 (2006), a harrowing depiction of the titular 9/11 flight that crashed in Pennsylvania; and, now, Green Zone, a parallel-universe account of the US military's non-discovery of WMDs in Iraq circa 2003. Greengrass has fictionalized each of these films to one extent or another, but Bloody Sunday and United 93 have nothing on the outrageous creative liberty and outright propaganda Greengrass brings to Green Zone.

Yes, propaganda. I'm with Greengrass's message, but such distortion of facts is reprehensible. Regardless of your intent, how do you fictionalize true events from seven years ago in an attempt to garner sympathy for your viewpoint? That, ladies and gentlemen, GIs and civilians, is hypocrisy and irony boiled down to its purest form. Greengrass invents one General Al-Rawi and a Sympathetic Arab -- in the vein of the Magical Negro -- to push his agenda.

It's Greengrass's comfort zone. It's also the stuff fucked-up legends, right and left, are made of. History is fleeting, but celluloid lasts forever. Greengrass wants us to take his version of events as truth, reality be damned. United 93, despite its tragic ending, is ultimately a feel-good film, one with a speculative ending that works because, hey, no one will ever know what really happened, so let's all share in a tragedy-fantasy. Cry, smile, hug your closest of kin. To be fair, though, United 93 was truthful to the events that occurred until its ending, which is anyone's guess. That actually happened to real people.

Green Zone, in contrast, lies to viewers. There was no Roy Miller, no General Al-Rawi. So soon after -- if seven years can be considered soon -- the first spade was thrust into the fuck-ditch that still is the Iraq War, I'm guessing a considerable number of ideologically malleable viewers will accept Greengrass's version of the war as truth, and that's a very dangerous thought. Green Zone is pure propaganda through and through, and what frustrates me most is that, despite its heart-on-sleeve conspiracy fantasy**, it's an entertaining movie.

But I suppose most propaganda is just that: entertaining. If you're on the "winning" side.

You can't fight lies with lies.

* You might call it "shaky cam," but I prefer to call it drunken cam.

** The easiest way to make people believe a lie is to mask it with truth. I discovered that when I was four years old, staying up past my bedtime to read pirate stories under the pretense that I was coughing too hard to fall asleep.

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