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Cinema Signal: Go! Good thriller, based on real-life events, for action and/or politics junkies.

. "Green Zone"

Director Paul Greengrass' ("The Bourne Ultimatum") movie, based on "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone," a book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, and a screenplay by Brian Helgeland ("The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3"), should not be mistaken as entirely fictional. As an expose' thriller, it describes and dramatizes the generally accepted truth that Bush and Cheney manipulated intelligence in order to sell the idea that the U.S. should invade another country for the first time in its history-- which it did on March 20, 2003.

But, for all the people in this country who agree on the cooked intel and the administration's deceit, about 22% of the electorate, comprised of hardnose republican extremists and operatives, will repudiate this view of those events if they go to see the movie at all. Chances are, most of this demographic will repudiate and boycott it at the same time.

In any case, it's an illustrious team of action filmmakers that put their cinematic power behind the construct with Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon, The Bourne trilogy) as the central figure.

This logical soldier, a thoughful idealist in the military's mission here, leads a squad to investigate locations in Baghdad that are reputed to be storage sites for the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) that Administration officials swore were here. By the third of these sites, all found to be empty buildings, Miller is of the opinion that there's something wrong with the intelligence and that further investigations, carried out by penetrating volatile and highly dangerous streets of the city, is a futile exercise.

But, he's advised to keep his opinions to himself in no uncertain terms, which bring this proud and outspoken soldier to the attention of CIA specialist Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson, "In Bruges") who agrees with him about the non-existence of WMDs in Iraq. This establishes them as enemies of Defense Intelligence agent Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), a slippery tongued representative of the administration and the Pentagon put here as the agent of deceit to dispel doubts about the Washington bred fabrications.

Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) has already fallen for his leaks to her of phony reports about a mysterious informer code named Magellan which she has legitimized by publishing them. When she's served Poundstone's purposes and he cuts her off from any further inquiry, she turns her attentions to Sgt. Miller who seems to be brewing up conflicting evidence.

The stew begins to boil amidst the increasing turmoil in the streets, as Miller researches the source of the phony intel. Because of his canny reading of an Iraqi citizen and a serendipitous observation, it leads to Iraqi General Al Rawi (Yigal Naor, an impressive casting), the leader of the Iraqi military playing their cards while in hiding and the Jack of Clubs in the deck of cards of wanted war criminals.

Miller and his squad attacks the house where Al Rawi is in a strategy meeting with his subordinate officers. Al Rawi, Magellan himself, escapes, but not without leaving behind a notebook with crucial information about his group of commanders' personal residences, their safe houses. When Poundstone sends Lt. Col. Briggs (Jason Isaacs) to retrieve the book from Miller because he wants to wipe out the now discredited source of the phony WMD intel before it's discovered that Al Rawi was only a fall guy for the adminstration's lies and false intelligence fed to the American public and to the soldiers on the ground.

Alarmingly, Sgt. Chief Miller, because of the truth he's uncovered, becomes an enemy of Poundstone-controlled elements of the army, and he, in typical proactive fashion, sets out to save Al Rawi before he's executed by the opposing army unit. Al Rawi, in Miller's and in Brown's opinion, could play a key role in the Iraqi recovery from chaos, looting and riot conditions.

Once again, after his embattled FBI agent Jason Bourne, Damon is called upon to provide his balance between adament forthrightness and tough masculinity, and he answers the call with sensitivity and keen understanding. The extraordinarily swift hand-to-hand combat he displayed in that former series, (also directed by Greenglass), is not equaled here, but his character is fully engaged physically as appropriate to the challenges of the situations.

Despite some cowboyish exploits, Greengrass understands the action framework like few others, locking you into his central figure's cause and dynamism from the git go. His action moves with near frantic drive, logically, smartly and with trim intensity based on character and mental processes that attract an adult audience. And, with that, he builds his story to a settle-the-score climax that releases pent-up ironies. That the basis of the narrative can't be called provable reality isn't for lack of echoes of the political cynicism that prevailed in real and recent history.

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Other components of his military-political action drama reside in such assets as John Powell's dynamic score, Christopher Rouse's frame-perfect editing, Dominic Watkins' production design who, along with his team of art directors who turned locations in Morocco, England and Spain into a totally credible and dusty Iraq. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd was also skillful but included hand-held camera work that, while appropriate to the action, was a little too shaky for my taste.

Though the narrative goes only so far to condemn an administration's earth-shattering disregard for the truth, including a presentation of "evidence" before the UN by the military's Chief of Staff Colin Powell (an event that should be more embarrassing to all concerned than it is) Greengrass and company do a service to the country by preserving in film exactly that which the mendacious fatheads in Washington are now trying so hard to conceal behind a mask of revisionist history. Though we may in time forget the falsifications and the incredible lack of judgement that prevailed after 9/11, we are close enough to it now to recall the daily strategies to mislead. Kudos to the makers of this film for helping to preserve the truth before the details of it can be altered or forgotten.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Matt Damon is Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller
Outside the Green Zone.

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