Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Another Great Night at the Movies

Green Zone

“I thought we were all on the same side,” Roy Miller, the soldier, says to Marty, the ‘rogue’ CIA agent. “Don’t be so naive,” comes the reply. A few minutes later, Miller is saying the same line back to the agent. It’s a line that summarizes Green Zone for me, both in positive and negative ways. The film is trying to tell its audience that they shouldn’t be so naive as to believe the U.S. invaded Iraq because of WMDs. Surely that is old news by now and so I would ask why the filmmakers are so naive as to think people still believe it (or am I the one being so naive as to underestimate the naivete of the masses?). But I applaud the effort nevertheless. Better said, I would have applauded the effort if it wasn’t for what the film clearly states WAS the reason for the invasion: to get Saddam. Come on! If you’re going to talk about being naive, don’t play so stupid as to think it was all about Saddam. Regardless of how badly the U.S. did or did not want to get rid of Saddam, the invasion was about oil and military control in the middles east, not about getting Saddam (and certainly not about WMDs). So either the filmmakers are themselves so naive (which I doubt) or they are trying to go as far as they think they can. Their hearts are in the right place, I guess, but if you are going to make a film about being naive, you cannot afford to come across as being naive yourself or as assuming the viewers are that much more naive than you are.

Green Zone is the story of Roy Miller (Matt Damon), a soldier asking too many questions about why the intelligence about WMDs keeps coming up empty. He finds a sympathetic CIA agent (Brendan Gleeson) and they try to uncover the truth (conspiracy?). Damon play that innocent intelligent character again, the one I like so much and which he does so well. Good stuff. Gleeson is an excellent choice as the CIA agent, though he struggles with his American accent. More good stuff. The film features the kind of grainy shaky handheld camera work (director Paul Greengrass likes this stuff) that I usually can’t tolerate, but it actually works in an environment like Baghdad. And the film opens well and hums along nicely for about three-quarters of the way. Then we get the big action scene (it doesn’t help that I am no fan of action scenes), which lasts forever and feels anti-climactic, as does the ending. It’s trying to end like Missing or Under Fire, two of my top ten films, but it just doesn’t feel like the filmmakers have gone anywhere near far enough. Maybe they were scared of turning people off.

Green Zone (the choice of the title is a mystery to me) is not near as good a film as The Hurt Locker, but at least it’s trying to expose the truth behind the lies which led to the invasion of Iraq while also doing its part to humanize the Iraqi people (Freddy was a great character) and exposing the abuse of prisoners, and that’s worth more than Hurt Locker’s efforts at humanization. So Green Zone gets a solid ***+ from me. My mug is up but the stuff inside could have been really tasty if the film hadn’t come across as too naive.

Shutter Island

Shutter Island is almost impossible to describe. It’s more of an experience than a story. The story is about a U.S. Marshall (Leonardo DiCaprio) investigating the impossible escape of an inmate from the world’s most secure prison for the criminally insane in 1954. Or is it?

From the opening scene, the film feels surreal and unreal. Then it moves to feeling off balance and fragmented. Scene after scene feels out of place and conversations sound like something from a 60‘s Hammer horror film. And the music feels way over the top, manipulation for pure manipulation’s sake. You are never sure what is really happening on Shutter Island. That can be a good thing, I suppose. And the film starts strong, creating an ominous and grey atmosphere that really grabs hold of you. But the film’s middle hour, focusing on flashbacks and nightmares, flags more than a little. Half of it did not seem necessary.

And the mandatory surprise ending? No big surprise to me at all (I can’t understand the critics who thought it came out of nowhere), but nevertheless very well done and completely satisfying. In fact, the wonderfully atmospheric opening scenes and the excellent last half hour pushed Shutter Island into the ***+ range. I like old-fashioned psychological thrillers (and what can I say, I’ve always liked the dark and brooding film noir films, and Shutter Island fits in that genre as well). On the whole, Martin Scorsese delivered what I was looking for: a well-made quirky film. Some of the acting felt over-the-top (Ben Kingsley was the acting highlight, with another excellent performance), all of the music felt over-the-top, and even the cinematography (which I loved) felt over-the-top. But I walked out of the film completely zoned out (questioning my sanity?) and did not recover for at least an hour. Few films do that to me anymore, so something obviously worked.

Not as good as Green Zone, but the ending was more satisfying. So Shutter Island also gets ***+. My mug is up again after a very entertaining night at the movies.

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