The star and director of the last two “Bourne” movies are back and much is the same — the gritty, intimate, documentary feel, the sense of peril and dynamic staging of action, the able but conflicted leading man. But there is an important difference. “Bourne” is based on a series of novels, but “The Green Zone” is based on a non-fiction book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City by former Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran, about the failed search for weapons of mass destruction in post-Mission Accomplished Iraq.
The “Bourne” movies were more than the usual slick spy story. Bourne was spying on his own past and what was revealed did not match real-life events but it resonated with them, giving the films some extra heft. “The Green Zone,” however, bases the story in recent events. It tweaks the names and some of the circumstances of the main characters, but not enough to establish a separate, consistent reality, just enough to be distracting. Audiences will look at the Wall Street Journal reporter played by Amy Ryan and stop to whisper, “Is she supposed to be Judy Miller? Is there a reason that a different character’s name is Miller? And who is that other guy supposed to be?” Those who are up on all of the details of the Iraqi war will be distracted by what is missing. Those who are not will be distracted by what is included.
As Damon and his men chase through crumbling buildings on blown-up streets, chasing and being chased, we see that all of their crack training and cutting-edge technology are no match for a situation that does not meet any previous military definitions or capacities. There are no foxholes or battle lines. Like the Light Brigade, they are expected to charge forward, “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do & die.” But when a Chief Warrant Officer (Damon) finds that he is repeatedly risking his life to retrieve weapons of mass destruction that do not exist, he wants to find out why the intel is so consistently unreliable. And then, when no one else seems to care about that, he wants to find out why. Shock and Awe seems to have deteriorated quickly into a quagmire.
His quest takes him though a crumbling palace, chandeliers incongruously shoved aside, to an even more surreal location in the American compound, with girls lounging in bikinis by a pool, being served pizza and beer. He meets a local with a prosthetic leg (Khalid Abdalla, excellent as “Freddy”), who leads him to the man who is the Jack of Clubs in the war criminal deck of cards. But it turns out that his mission is not what he had thought. “Democracy is messy,” a Pentagon official (Greg Kinnear) tells him. “We’re here to do a job and get home safe,” another soldier says. “I thought we were all on the same side,” the Chief Warrant Officer tells the CIA representative (Brendan Gleeson). “Don’t be naive,” he responds. It turns out hardly anyone is on the same side as anyone else. Both sides have splintered into factions with shifting loyalties and murky motives. And the wall of the prison where Iraqis are being tortured says, “Honor Bound to Serve Freedom.”
But this script’s attempts to be intricate underscore how much it simplifies the reality, especially with a gesture at the end that is supposed to be cathartic but instead just makes us question the reliability of everything we’ve seen. Over-simplified and under-played, this movie wants to be more than the fictional Bourne series but ends up being less. I’m betting that this was a studio-imposed effort to make the film more marketable after a series of disappointing box office returns for Iraqi war movies. Some day, maybe, there will be a director’s cut that will recognize that like democracy, some movies need to be messy, too.
Robert Pattinson has gone from brooding, adoring Bella, saving Bella, and trying not to kill anyone in the Twilight movies to “Remember Me,” a J.D. Salinger-esque tale that has him brooding, adoring Ally (played by the vampire-esquely named Emilie de Ravin), saving various people, and trying not to kill anyone.
He plays Tyler, the son of a Wall Street tycoon (Pierce Brosnan) and big brother to the precocious Caroline (played by “Nurse Jackie’s” Ruby Jerins, and by far the film’s best and most interesting character). He is 21 and not quite in school, auditing courses. He meets Ally, but he does not tell her that the meeting was orchestrated by his roommate Aiden (Tate Ellington) as a part of an a vague and not very focused revenge plot. Her father, an angry cop (Chris Cooper) beat Tyler up and arrested them both when they got into a fight trying to defend some passers-by against some thugs.
Tyler and Ally begin to get acquainted and it turns out they have something in common. Ten years earlier, in 1991, she was with her mother in a subway station when she was murdered by two guys stealing her purse. And a few years earlier, on his 22nd birthday, Tyler’s older brother committed suicide. Tyler was the one who found him. Loss is isolating. It destroys our trust in the essential rightness of things. Tyler and Ally begin to find a way to feel connection, and hope.
Tyler is furious at his father for neglecting Caroline. Ally is furious at hers for striking her. This, too, connects them. And then, Ally finds out what led Tyler to approach her and feels betrayed. And then, some really bad stuff happens that will, depending on your age and inclination, will either seem deep and meaningful and transcendent or will seem manipulative and cheesy. I’m in that latter category.
There’s a lot to like in this film. The scenes with Tyler and Ally are touching and the Tyler’s relationship with Caroline feels warm and genuine. The first-filmed script by Will Fetters shows promise. Its rookie flaws are forgivable and its strengths show great promise.
The greatest documentary film festival in America is Silverdocs, based in the American Film Institute’s gorgeous film exhibition spaces in Silver Spring, Maryland. It is an annual week-long festival that celebrates independent thinking, supports the diverse voices and free expression of independent storytellers, and fosters the power of documentary to enhance our understanding of the world. Anchored in the National Capital Region, where important global and national issues are the daily business, Silverdocs is marked by its relevance, broad intellectual range, and wide public appeal. Silverdocs was created through a unique alliance between AFI and the Discovery Channel, the festival’s Founding Sponsor.
This week’s participating films include:
“Freakonomics,” from the Oscar-winning director of “Taxi to the Dark Side” and the Enron and Jack Abramoff documentaries, and based on the best-seller that uses economics to explain behavior, not just markets.
Stephen Marshall’s “Holy Wars,” the story of two deeply committed men of faith – one a Muslim, the other a Christian – as they travel the world spreading messages they both feel represent “the truth.” The Muslim, an Irish convert living in London, advocates for a global jihad that will ultimately render his faith dominant. The Christian, living in the American heartland, sees Muslims as the enemy and considers it his duty to convert the unenlightened. What would happen if these two men were put in the same room together? This thought-provoking film is sure to push buttons and instigate discussions about the nature not of any one religion, but of extremism and tolerance.
“Making the Boys,” the story of the ground-breaking play (later a movie) “The Boys in the Band,” the first frank and sympathetic portrayal of gay men to achieve mainstream success.
“Restrepo,” from journalists Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm, War) and Tim Hetherington, who fully embeded themselves for a year with a platoon of U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo”–named after a platoon medic killed in action–is a stronghold of al Qaeda and the Taliban, and arguably one of the U.S. Army’s deadliest challenges. With unprecedented access and unflinching immediacy, “Restrepo” reveals the challenges, triumphs, despair and intense camaraderie among the men who wake up each day under fire, never knowing whether they will make it home again.
“The People Vs. George Lucas” Is there any film-maker with more passionate fans and more passionate critics than the man who gave us Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Jar-Jar Binks? One fan, director Alexandre O. Philippe, presents the cases for and against the legendary auteur. At the heart of the matter is this question: Is film the property of the artist who created it or that of the audience that claims and loves it as its own?
“Wo Ai Ni, Mommy” is a quintessentially American story of hope, love, race, conflict, identity, loss, and re-invention. A warm, affectionate Jewish family from New York adopts an eight-year-old girl from China. They change her name to “Faith.” At first, she is lonely and homesick. But within a year, she considers herself American and has to have help from an interpreter when she calls her former foster family back in China via Skype. For me, one of the highlights of this touching and insightful film is when the documentarian cannot help but be drawn out of her role as objective reporter to serve as a liaison in helping to bring Faith and her new family together by translating what they are saying.
Seth Rogan and Jay Chou star in next January’s release, “The Green Hornet.”
Not excited yet? Well, wait for this — it also includes Cameron Diaz and Tom Wilkenson (“Michael Clayton”) and as the bad guy, this year’s Oscar winner Christoph Waltz of “Inglourious Basterds.” And here’s the part that gets my heart doing flip-flops — it is directed by Michel Gondry of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Be Kind Rewind.” Hmmm, I hope the DVD includes a sweded version.