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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Green Zone

I'm a huge fan of Paul Greengrass' Bourne movies and a very huge fan of his 'United 93'. His camera techniques (jerky movements, small takes, rapid transition between long & close-up shots...) in the Bourne movies created a sense of immediacy and tension which with a good story and a solid actor like Matt Damon generated genuine thrill. 'United 93' is the first (I think) 9/11 movie and by keeping it completely non-political and non-commercial Greengrass delivered a punch to me that's been equaled very rarely in probably the thousand movies I've seen [1]. In Green Zone he has tried to conflate politics and thrill and history. It succeeds moderately as an action movie, but the naive treatment of the political dimension takes away any seriousness a thinking adult may invest here thereby boiling it down to a popcorn story for teenagers discussing politics.

As pointed out by Anthony Lane of New Yorker, even a google search and subsequent clicks made by a warrant officer (Matt Damon) comfortably sitting inside his room is shown to the audience with the cameraman's acrobatics where the monitor is zoomed in and out and focusing on just the words that the director wants the audience to read. This is precisely my fuss when dealing with movies based on real events: just show everything - politically - and let the viewer decide where he should stand instead of the writer/director cherry picking actions, events and decisions to suit their needs. I know Hollywood's political affiliations (Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron, Stone and many other bigwigs are on the left-wing) and I understand it is not their job to inform the general public on political matters in a non-partisan manner, especially when it comes to wars. Does Greengrass, the creator of a masterpiece like 'United 93', realize that presenting a simplistic story ignoring the political complexity [2] results in a shoddy cinema?

[1] Here's a link to my half-ass review of United 93. Talking of raw punches, Irreversible is another movie that hit me very hard.

[2] At the risk of sounding redundant, but to emphasize my point, I'll say it again: The director has great artistic license in the case of fiction. A soldier can even sing a song and dance when bullets whiz past him [3]. But when you base your story on a real and ongoing war, you have a moral responsibility to not dilute the events. This movie is inspired by Rajiv Chandrasekaran's critically acclaimed, politically dense 'Imperial Life in the Emerald City'. By calling the screenplay an inspiration, the screenwriter has disabused himself of that moral responsibility. I understand that there's only so much that can be crammed into 120 minutes, even if you're shooting a documentary, but this movie is shamelessly one-sided.

[3] The semi-fictional semi-docudrama Waltz with Bashir actually features a scene like this - a soldier waltzes in the middle of the road in a war zone in Lebanon. If you get a chance see it just for the brilliant visual style.

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