Green Zone is a 2010 action thriller film directed by Paul Greengrass. The storyline was conceived from a screenplay written by Brian Helgeland, based on a 2006 non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City by journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran. The book documented life within the Green Zone in Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
On 19 March 2003, Iraqi Army General Mohammed Al-Rawi flees his residence amid the bombardment of Baghdad. Before leaving the compound he passes a notebook to his aide Seyyed, instructing him to warn his officers to get to their safehouses and wait for his signal.
Four weeks later, US Army CBRN Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller and his platoon check a warehouse for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. To Miller’s surprise, the warehouse has not been secured, with looters making their way in and out, as soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division are too limited in strength to do much. After a firefight with a sniper Miller finds that the warehouse is empty, the third consecutive time an official mission has led to a dead end. Later, at a debriefing, Miller makes the point that the majority of the intel given to him is inaccurate and anonymous. High-ranking officials quickly dismiss his concerns. Afterwards CIA Agent Martin Brown tells him that the next place he is to search was inspected by a United Nations team two months prior and that it too has been confirmed empty.
Meanwhile, US Department of Defence official Clark Poundstone welcomes returning Iraqi exile politician Ahmed Zubaidi at the airport. There Poundstone is questioned by Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne. She says she needs to speak directly to “Magellan” (based on real-life informant “Curveball”), but Poundstone brushes her off.
Meanwhile, while checking another unpromising site, Miller is approached by an Iraqi who calls himself “Freddy”, who tells him that he saw some Ba’ath Party VIPs meeting in a nearby house. They include Al-Rawi and his officers and aides in Baghdad, who are discussing the current situation. Al-Rawi decides to wait for the Americans to offer him a deal, and attack if they don’t. As the meeting ends, Miller and his men burst into the house. Al-Rawi narrowly escapes, but Seyyed is captured. Before Miller can extract much information, Seyyed is taken away by Special Forces operators and gets in a fight with Miller’s team – however, Miller keeps Al-Rawi’s notebook. Dayne complains to Poundstone again, but he states that the stakes are much larger than her role in selling newspapers.
Miller goes to Brown’s hotel in the Green Zone, where he tells him what happened and gives him the notebook. Brown arranges for Miller to get into the prison where Seyyed is being interrogated. Miller is then approached by Dayne, who questions him about the false reports of WMDs. Miller bluffs his way in to see Seyyed. Near death after being tortured, he tells Miller that they “did everything you asked us to in the meeting.” When Miller asks what meeting he is talking about, he says one word: “Jordan.” Miller then confronts Dayne about the bogus intel she published, but she refuses to identify Magellan, her source. After Miller tells her he suspects that Al-Rawi is Magellan, Dayne reluctantly confirms that Magellan met with a high-ranking official in February in Jordan.
Miller realises that Poundstone’s men are hunting Al-Rawi, and can think of only one reason: Al-Rawi confirms there was no Iraqi WMD programme, and is now a major liability. Poundstone confiscates the notebook from Martin; it contains the locations of Al-Rawi’s safe houses. When Miller tries to arrange a meeting with Al-Rawi, he is abducted by Al-Rawi’s men following Poundstone’s announcement of the decision to disband the entire Iraqi Army. Al-Rawi tells Miller that he informed Poundstone that the WMD programme had been dismantled after the First Persian Gulf War; Poundstone, however, reported that Al-Rawi had confirmed there were WMDs so the US government would have an excuse to invade. Poundstone’s men attack the locations listed in the notebook. When they get to the general’s hiding place he flees, ordering one man to kill Miller. Miller manages to kill his captor and races after Al-Rawi, finally capturing him, but Freddy suddenly appears and shoots the general, telling Miller that “the fate of Iraq is not yours to decide”. With his only witness against Poundstone now dead, Miller tells Freddy to flee.
Later, Miller writes a scathing report. He confronts Poundstone in a meeting and gives him the report, but Poundstone dismisses it, telling Miller that WMDs do not matter. Poundstone then rejoins the meeting, only to see Iraqi factional leaders reject Zubaidi, the US’s choice as leader of Iraq, as an American puppet and storm out. Afterwards, Dayne receives Miller’s report by email. The recipient list includes reporters for major news agencies around the world.
- Matt Damon as Roy Miller, an idealistic US Army CBRN Chief Warrant Officer. Roy Miller is based on real-life Army Chief Warrant Officer Richard “Monty” Gonzales. Damon joined the film with the assurance that production would conclude by 14 April 2008, so he could start working on the Steven Soderbergh film The Informant! on 15 April, amid scheduling difficulties caused by the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike.
- Amy Ryan as Lawrie Dayne, a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal who investigates the Bush administration’s claims of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. One reviewer noted that, “it’s crystal-clear that…Dayne is former New York Times reporter Judith Miller.”
- Brendan Gleeson as Martin Brown, the CIA Agent and Baghdad bureau chief, loosely based on Jay Garner.
- Greg Kinnear as Clark Poundstone, US Department of Defense Special Intelligence official. One reviewer saw Poundstone as Paul Bremer, the “…Coalition Provisional Authority head in 2003-2004.
- Yigal Naor as General Mohammed Al Rawi, loosely based on the real-life informant Rafid Ahmed Alwan, a.k.a. “Curveball”.
- Jerry Della Salla as Platoon Sergeant Wilkins.
- Nicoye Banks as Perry.
- Jason Isaacs as Major Briggs, a special operations commander on the hunt for high-value targets.
- Martin McDougall as Mr. Sheen, CIA Baghdad assistant bureau chief.
- Khalid Abdalla as Freddy, an Iraqi Army veteran who lost his leg in 1987 during the Iran-Iraq War. Abdalla was cast in the role after impressing Greengrass with his performance in United 93. The actor, who is of Egyptian descent, prepared for his role by learning the Iraqi Arabic dialect and reading Iraqi blogs like Riverbend and Alive in Baghdad.
- Michael O’Neill as Colonel Bethel.
- Antoni Corone as Colonel Lyons.
- Tommy Campbell as the Chopper Comms Commander.
- Paul McIntosh as a CIA officer.
- Sean Huze as Sergeant Conway, a member of Roy Miller’s MET team.
- Robert Harrison O’Neil as a TV Journalist.
- Ben Sliney as the bureaucrat at VTC.
- Said Faraj as Seyyed Hamza.
- Abdul Henderson as Marshall, a member of Roy Miller’s MET team.
- Raad Rawi as Ahmed Zubaidi, an Iraqi political exile based on Ayad Allawi.
George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States appears in a cameo via television archive footage.
In January 2007, after completing The Bourne Ultimatum, director Paul Greengrass announced his intent to adapt a film of the 2006 non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a journalist for The Washington Post. Greengrass wrote a script based on the book, working with researchers Kate Solomon and Michael Bronner, who helped the director research for the 2006 film United 93. The script was reported to be developed more in advance than the script for The Bourne Ultimatum, which had undergone changes during production. Screenwriter Tom Stoppard was originally requested to write the script for Greengrass, but because Stoppard was too busy, screenwriter Brian Helgeland instead collaborated with the director to shape the film’s premise. Greengrass expressed interest in casting in the lead actor Matt Damon, with whom he had worked on The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, and the actor joined the project in June 2007. Actors Amy Ryan, Greg Kinnear, and Antoni Corone were later cast in January 2008. Greengrass said of the project’s contemporary relevance, “Film shouldn’t be disenfranchised from the national conversation. It is never too soon for cinema to engage with events that shape our lives.”
Themes and Inspirations
Director Paul Greengrass has said that he first thought about making a movie about the subject of the war in Iraq rather than telling a particular story. Although he initially supported Tony Blair’s justifications of the war, he became disillusioned over time. Greengrass carried out extensive research into the background to the conflict, reading journalists such as Bob Woodward, Seymour Hersh, James Risen, Thomas Ricks, and Ron Suskind, in addition to Rajiv Chandrasekaran, whose book he optioned. He has even compiled a document, How Did We Get It So Wrong?, detailing what he learned. Although Greengrass initially wanted to make a smaller film, he eventually decided a bigger budget production would expose more people to the ideas in the film.
Addressing some of the contentions in the film, Greengrass has said that the arguments about disbanding the Iraqi army portrayed in the film represent debates that actually took place by US policy makers. The issue of the culpability of the Fourth Estate, i.e. the mainstream (news) media, or MSM, in taking intelligence at face value, although embodied by a single character, represents a broad based failing in both the US and UK, but for Greengrass the fault ultimately lay with those trying to manipulate them.
Greengrass has said that both the Bourne films and Green Zone reflect a widespread popular mistrust of authority that was engendered by governments that have deliberately lied and have let their citizens down over the Iraq war. The confusion surrounding the absence of WMD in Iraq also provided an ideal scenario for a thriller, in which the protagonist battles for the truth.
Production of Green Zone was originally slated to begin in late 2007. Instead, it began at the Los Alcázares Air Base in Spain on 10 January 2008, moved to Morocco, and finished filming in the UK in December 2008.
The original motion picture soundtrack was composed by musician John Powell. Jorge Adrados mixed the sound elements for the chorus, while Jon Olive edited the film’s music. The soundtrack for the film was released on 09 March 2010, by the Varèse Sarabande music label.
Green Zone opened in Australia and Russia on 11 March 2010. It was released in the United States and some other countries on 12 March 2010.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray in United States on 22 June 2010. The initial Blu-ray Disc includes audio commentary with director Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, deleted scenes with a video commentary by Damon, Greengrass and his son Kit, several featurettes, BD-Live, My Scenes and Digital Copy on disc.
The film opened at No. 2 in the United States with $14.3 million in 3,003 theatres, averaging $4,765 per theatre. In the UK the film was the third most popular film of its opening weekend, selling £1.55 million worth of tickets (£2.07 million including previews). Comparing the relative opening weekend results of Green Zone and Shutter Island between the US and UK, Green Zone did twice as well in the UK as on the other side of the Atlantic.
Given its budget of roughly $100 million, in addition to its $40 million in marketing, Green Zone has been referred to as a flop for its production company Universal Studios. The Guardian stated that the film would be unlikely to recoup its production costs through box-office receipts alone. Green Zone has grossed $94.9 million in total worldwide ($35.1 million in the United States and Canada plus $59.8 million elsewhere).
Green Zone is seen as a political film, portraying the CIA in Iraq as the good guys while the Pentagon, more generally, the White House, as the bad guys. Film critic A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times that “the inevitable huffing and puffing about this movie’s supposedly left-wing or ‘anti-American’ agenda has already begun”. US military veteran Kyle Smith labelled the film “slander” and “egregiously anti-American”, as he wrote on New York Post. An article on Fox News.com states, “Given this set-up, audiences are encouraged to root for Miller’s rogue activities and against the government, represented in the film by a corrupt Pentagon chief played by Greg Kinnear.”
Richard “Monty” Gonzales, the person on whom the character of Roy Miller was loosely based, commented that both sides of the political spectrum have reacted disproportionately and any political controversy is unwarranted. Gonzales worked as one of the film’s military advisors over two years on the condition that the film would be faithful to the experience of American soldiers in Iraq. Gonzales wrote that, on the one hand, the film captures the critical intelligence blunders prior to the war and de-Baathification programme that ensured that the conflict was costly and complicated. He nevertheless maintains that a reading of the film that reflects a genuine conspiracy by sections of the Federal government of the United States is incorrect. He sees the film as an exciting “Bourne-in-Baghdad thriller”. Matt Damon cites Gonzales’ motives for working on the film as being “because we need to regain our moral authority.”
James Denselow, writing for The Guardian, praises the film’s portrayal of the conflict, saying “ultimately what gives the film its credibility is that it avoids any simplistic idea that Iraq could have simply been ‘got right’. Indeed Miller’s vision of exposing the WMD conspiracy and the CIA’s plan to keep the Iraqi army is undermined by the film’s wildcard – a nationalist Shia war veteran who turns the plot on its head before delivering the killer line to the Americans when he tells them: ‘It is not for you to decide what happens here [in this country].'”
Greengrass defended his film in an interview with Charlie Rose, saying, “The problem, I think, for me is that something about that event strained all the bonds and sinews that connect us all together. For me it’s to do with the fact that they said they had the intelligence, and then it emerged later that they did not.” Matt Damon also defended the film, telling MTV News, “I don’t think that’s a particularly incendiary thing to say. I think that’s a journey that we all went on and a fundamental question we all asked and it’s not partisan.” Filmmaker Michael Moore commented: “I can’t believe this film got made. It’s been stupidly marketed as an action film. It is the most HONEST film about the Iraq War made by Hollywood.”
- Many of the soldiers in Matt Damon’s WMD unit were actual Iraq War and Afghanistan War veterans, not actors.
- Damon said his biggest challenge was knowing he was an actor who was giving orders to actual soldiers.
- Director Paul Greengrass began his career shooting documentaries in war zones.
- Roy Miller is based on US Army Chief Warrant Officer named Monty Gonzales (Richard L. “Monty” Gonzales), who had the real-life job of hunting for weapons of mass destruction after the fall of Baghdad.
- Gonzales was hired as a consultant on the film.
- The traffic shots of the American convoy rolling under an overpass and encountering a traffic jam as panicked crowds flee Baghdad were shot in Spain, on a brand new highway which was not yet open to the public.
- The budget swelled because Matt Damon, Paul Greengrass, and the studio were unhappy with the original tame ending.
- The last third of the movie had to be reshot, which was complicated by the fact that Damon had already left to shoot The Informant! (2009) and the shoots had to be restaged months later to accommodate his schedule.
- The iconic “Crossed Sword” gates of Baghdad were actually rented cranes, which were overlaid with CGI in post production.
- The interior shots of General Al-Rawi’s house were constructed atop a large bellows, which were pumped up and down violently to give the impression of bombs going off nearby.
- The gunner atop Matt Damon’s Humvee is Falluja vet Marine Michael J. Dwyer, who was in a building in New York to sign up for a veteran’s organisation, it happened to be the same building where the casting sessions for Green Zone were taking place.
- The scenes with Black Hawk helicopters were filmed using Hueys, the helicopters themselves were digitally replaced, but the soldiers jumping in and out and the dust kick-back was real.
Production & Filming Details
- Paul Greengrass.
- Zakaria Alaoui … line producer: Morocco.
- Mairi Bett … co-producer.
- Tim Bevan … producer (produced by).
- Michael Bronner … co-producer.
- Jo Burn … line producer: additional photography.
- Liza Chasin … executive producer.
- Eric Fellner … producer (produced by).
- Kevin Flatow … consulting producer.
- Paul Greengrass … producer (produced by).
- Debra Hayward … executive producer.
- Lloyd Levin … producer (produced by).
- Alvaro Ron … associate producer.
- Christopher Rouse … co-producer.
- Kate Solomon … co-producer.
- Tadeo Villalba hijo … associate producer (as Tedy Villalba).
- Brian Helgeland … (written by).
- Rajiv Chandrasekaran … (book).
- John Powell.
- Barry Ackroyd … director of photography.
- Christopher Rouse.
- Universal Pictures (presents).
- StudioCanal (in association with).
- Relativity Media (in association with).
- Working Title Films.
- Antena 3 Films (in association with).
- Dentsu (in association with) (as Dentsu Inc.).
- Universal Pictures (2010) (USA) (theatrical).
- Finnkino (2010) (Finland) (theatrical).
- Sidus (2010) (Korea) (theatrical).
- Silver Screen (2010) (Bulgaria) (theatrical).
- Solar Entertainment (2010) (Philippines) (theatrical).
- StudioCanal (2010) (France) (theatrical).
- Toho-Towa (2010) (Japan) (theatrical).
- United International Pictures (UIP) (2010) (Argentina) (theatrical).
- United International Pictures (UIP) (2010) (Denmark) (theatrical).
- United International Pictures (UIP) (2010) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- United International Pictures (UIP) (2010) (Singapore) (theatrical).
- Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2010) (UK) (theatrical).
- Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2010) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- Zon Lusomundo Audiovisuais (2010) (Portugal) (theatrical).
- Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE) (2010) (USA) (DVD).
- Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE) (2010) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2010) (Greece) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Universal Home Entertainment (2010) (UK) (DVD).
- Universal Home Entertainment (2010) (UK) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Universal Pictures Finland (2010) (Finland) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (2010) (Germany) (DVD).
- Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (2010) (Germany) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Universal Pictures (2010) (Netherlands) (Blu-ray).
- Universal Pictures (2010) (Netherlands) (DVD).
- Universal Pictures (2010) (Sweden) (DVD).
- Universal Pictures (2010) (Sweden) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Film1 (2011) (Netherlands) (TV) (limited).
- Spike TV (2012) (USA) (TV).
- Veronica (2012) (Netherlands) (TV).
- Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE) (2013) (USA) (DVD) (Incuded in “Matt Damon: 4-Movie Sotlight Series”).
- Paramount Films of India (2010) (India) (theatrical).
- United International Pictures (UIP) (2010) (Poland) (theatrical).
- 2BE (2012) (Belgium) (TV).
- Canal+ (2011) (Poland) (TV).
- HBO Polska (2013) (Poland) (TV).
- TV5 (2013) (Finland) (TV).
- TVP (2015) (Poland) (TV).
- TiM Film Studio (2010) (Poland) (DVD).
- Release Date: 26 February 2010 (Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, Japan).
- Rating: 15.
- Running Time: 115 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.