POSTED ON MARCH 17, 2010:
Green Zone blurs fiction and reality, while Remember Me swoons only Twilight tweens
Undercover. Matt Damon stars in Green Zone as an Army officer who thinks there is more to the search for weapons of mass destruction than what’s being said. Also shown: Amy Ryan.
Movies set in the Iraq war haven't been particularly successful. War movies, in general, aren't often known to pull down record setting numbers. Just take a look at the Top 50 highest grossing movies. The only war films are those that take place between Jedi and Sith, humans and machines, or happen in Middle-Earth.
Even with The Hurt Locker taking Best Picture recently, it's actual box office gross suggested most of the people who saw it win that Oscar probably hadn't seen the film yet. I have to confess to being a little baffled by The Hurt Locker's sweep with the Academy voters. While Jeremy Renner's performance was superb, I found the film to be a very well crafted action/suspense piece without much of a story, or any real depth. It was a series of missions.
Green Zone similarly casts itself as an action film, though this time with a story, reuniting Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass to give us something that is not entirely Jason Bourne Goes to Iraq but close enough.
The film opens in 2003, just after the fall of Baghdad. Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) leads a team looking for the weapons of mass destruction that constituted the reason for the invasion. After several fruitless raids based on U.S. intelligence that is consistently wrong, Miller wants some answers.
While Miller is at a debriefing, putting in his two cents on the faulty intel, he meets a CIA officer, Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) who finds the anonymously sourced intel as suspect as Miller does. The regular brass doesn't want any questions, and the point man for the WMD hunt and the Iraqi transition, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), stonewalls every attempt to verify who the source, code-named "Magellan", actually is.
Meanwhile, the remnants of Saddam's cabinet meet in hiding to consult with General Al-Rawi (Igal Naor) -- one of those guys that wound up in the deck of cards -- in deciding whether or not to fight for or against the Americans. Guys like CIA officer Brown advocate for hiring the jobless Iraqi army to hold the country together, while men like Poundstone believe the only way forward is to purge any members of the Ba'ath Party and disband the Iraqi forces. Al-Rawi is counting on the Americans to make an offer.
As Miller, with the help of Brown and a Wall Street Journal reporter, Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), gets closer to the heart of the mystery, he begins to suspect that perhaps the true story behind the U.S. going to war might not be the one everyone is reading in the papers.
Based on the novel Imperial Life in the Emerald City and adapted by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), much of the plot of Green Zone is a re-arranged version of reality. From the bogus intel provided by an oddly code-named anonymous source (remember Curveball?) to a parroting journalist who unwittingly helps justify a war on false pretenses (the New York Times' Judith Miller?), to the ultimate failure to find WMD in Iraq, much of Green Zone is -- often sadly -- familiar territory.
Paul Greengrass directs it with much of the same technique and tone of his last two Bourne films, which is to say excellently. He's mastered the wavering camera, and the prodigious grit and grain in his shots that never lose their spatial coherence when all Hell breaks loose. He builds tension between the set pieces by keeping the story moving at breakneck pace, never letting the exposition bog down the plot, nor allowing the action to overwhelm it.
The technical aspects of the film are all very well crafted, and Greengrass is a smart action director who can weave a good yarn in between bursts of chaos. It's just too bad that story feels so dated. Green Zone is trying to elicit its tension from what amounts to old news, unless you're among those that think Saddam had something to do with Sept. 11. Mistakes were made, sometimes willfully, and for those who spent time paying attention in 2003, Green Zone's fictional aspects will make the film feel like cheap fantasy when contrasted against the modern day reality of our Iraqi adventure and what could have been avoided. Many didn't care much then about the details of how we got in, and I suspect they don't want to be reminded of them now.
Damon is fine, as usual. He's got his no-bull demeanor down to an art, and he continues to be a convincing action star. It's easy to forget he can turn around and do great comedic work and nuanced drama when he needs to. That said, Jeremy Renner's performance in The Hurt Locker is much more noteworthy, despite the fact I think Green Zone is the better film.
As Poundstone, Greg Kinnear is appropriately smarmy as an ideologically motivated hack that tows the party line. It's fun watching him scurry around trying to plug holes in a dam that will inevitably burst. I've always liked Kinnear going back to his start on Talk Soup (remember that?), to his chilling portrayal of Bob Crane in 2002's Auto Focus. He's a guy that has a great range and versatility. Now that I think about it, Kinnear and Damon starred together in the underappreciated 2003 Farrelly Bros. Siamese twin comedy Stuck on You. He picks some eclectic, interesting roles.
And Green Zone is plenty interesting. It's well made and well acted, and it doesn't bore. But in the end, I couldn't shake the feeling that it won't be able avoid the mire of disregard as with other Iraq war films, even the ones that win Oscars.
I briefly toyed with the idea of turning this review into a plea for proper movie theater etiquette. See, different movies attract different crowds, sometimes. With animated flicks you get more toddlers who think nothing of having a tantrum in the middle of a packed house. With action or horror movies, you tend to get a boisterous crowd that's more willing to interact with the film. I actually like that. It's one of my favorite things about the theatrical experience -- at times.
And then there are Robert Pattinson fans. They like to giggle constantly and text. But then that's why I abandoned the etiquette lesson. Tween fangirls don't read me. I only assume they read at all because they must be Twilight fans. They're also incredibly annoying. I changed seats, but they were everywhere.
The object of their affection, the brooding, Scorsese-browed Robert Pattinson is the star of Remember Me. Having thus far avoided seeing any of the Twilight films, this would be my first time to be regaled with a feature length example of his skill. Would preconceived notions and the guilt by association with his annoying fan base taint my view?
Remember Me follows Tyler Hawkins (Pattinson), a brooding, rebellious bad boy NYU student who works in the campus library (yeah) with his motor mouth, wise-cracking roommate, Aidan (Tate Ellington).
Tyler is a child of divorce, and he lost an older brother to suicide. His relationship to his businessman father, Charles, (Pierce Brosnan) is chilly. To cement his image, Tyler drinks lots of beer and chain smokes.
One night, after a trip to the bar, Tyler and Aidan are caught up in an altercation that gets them roughed up and arrested by Officer Neil Craig (Chris Cooper). After they make bail, Aidan comes up with a scheme to get revenge when he learns Craig's daughter, Ally (Emilie de Ravin of Lost fame) is a fellow NYU student. The idea? Get Tyler to date her, nail her and dump her. Tyler reluctantly agrees.
So Tyler and Ally start hanging out and saccharinely begin to woo each other, and soon it's clear that Ally is cracking Tyler's carefully constructed façade of James Dean envy.
She's got some dysfunction, as well, as she witnessed the brutal murder of her mother a decade earlier. But while the defenses drop, and they begin to fall for each other, the specter of Tyler's relationship to Ally's dad lurks forebodingly in the background.
While not completely devoid of moments that work, Remember Me is still mostly a tsunami of maudlin crap, capped off by a finale that was mind blowing in its craven awfulness -- let's put it this way, a theater full of tween girls blurted out, "That's it?!" in unison.
And I laughed.
Directed by Allen Coulter, from a script by Will Fetters, Remember Me is decent on a technical basis. Although Coulter exhibits no real style, he shot a nice enough looking film and he gets some good performances out of some of the cast. He doesn't rush the pace, which had me wondering where it was all going until the amazingly misappropriated ending. Up until that point, the script was just a mass of clichés and cloying artifice. I officially don't like Will Fetters.
But if the film has a saving grace at all, it's the acting, particularly Pierce Brosnan. As Charles Hawkins, Brosnan gives a confident and layered performance, as the strong-willed patriarch, suppressing the pain his choices inflict on the very people he's making them for. He's so good that I forgot about Bond, which should be impossible.
Chris Cooper turns in yet another strong performance, as Ally's protective yet pragmatic NYPD father. No surprises there, really. Emilie de Ravin is also quite good, not to mention fetching. Despite her stereotypical, damaged and whip smart character, de Ravin has the charm and the looks to make the thin writing easier to ignore.
And then there's Robert Pattinson. To be honest, he is not without ability. He has an easy chemistry with de Ravin, and I actually enjoyed his scenes with his little sister, Caroline (Ruby Jerins). In fact, their relationship was the most compelling one in the film. But just as often, Pattinson's posturing and bad boy affectations did as much to take me out of the film as his scenes with his sister did to pull me in. Still, I've seen Taylor Lautner (Team Jacob!) on screen now -- in the regrettable Valentine's Day -- and his utter void of screen presence or acting ability make Pattinson seem damn near like Hamlet in comparison. See? I can be impartial.
But, yeah. I'll never see this movie again.
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