Green Zone Review

Paul Greengrass’ has a directorial style that instantaneously pulls you in. His aggressive camerawork is identifiable, carefully calculated yet frenzied.

Green Zone opens on the first night of the “shock and awe” campaign of the Iraq war. Bombs are dropping, and unidentified civilians, possibly even military targets, are scattered. Greengrass follows them as they try to gather items, escape down steps, and then into the streets. Generally, the camera is low, the added shaking intense and involving.

The film moves into an action sequence, a tense shoot-out as US troops investigate a lead into possible WMD sites. Frenzied editing, sweeping and spinning camera shots, and a generally heightened sense of danger are all present. You can dock Greengrass for the similarity to his other projects, undoubtedly at first glance here because of the Matt Damon connection to the Bourne series. That is missing the point though. Without Greengrass’ trademark panicked style (or cliched documentary feel; call it what you wish), Green Zone would not be the same.

Damon plays Miller, a frustrated soldier irritated the intelligence he is receiving is not leading to any actual weapons being discovered. His own investigation, going rogue to uncover the truth, brings a sense of total disorganization and disarray to those first days in Iraq. The CIA is split in two, both sides fighting against other, and no one trusting the opposing side. Miller even questions the press, finding their sources were not thoroughly checked, and the basis for the entire war a falsehood.

Green Zone is peppered with action scenes, including an extensive finale with US troops split against each other in terms of purpose, yet after the same target. Each sequence is more involving than the last, believable, natural performances transparent to the story. These stop being actors and become real people, creating total immersion into the plot.

The film requires your attention, in many cases demanding it. The swerving script, certainly not focusing on the positives of the Iraq war, is not complex but can quickly spiral out of control if you lose track of motivations behind the action. It comes back to Greengrass and that frantic direction, his kinetic ability with the camera choosing scenes of importance with mere motion. It’s impressive, much like Green Zone as a whole, a finely tuned, believable take on those early days of the war we likely never should have been involved in.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

For the most part, you can tell Green Zone was shot on film. A light grain structure dominates much of the movie, and the VC-1 encode handles it admirably. Scenes shot in the light exhibit exceptional detail, such as a conversation around the 24-minute mark. Superlative close-ups of Matt Damon inter-cut with a computer screen at 47:43 are likewise near reference. Dimensionality is generally only okay, the pale (although natural) color and slightly washed out contrast limiting the depth.

Where many will take issue with this encode are the scenes at night, but this is purely stylistic. In fact, the healthy bitrate resolves everything thrown at it. Non-stop noise is dominant, really becoming rough for the first time at 1:07:50. White specks, appearing almost as static, take over the frame, swallowing detail. The image here certainly appears digital, although it is not according to the noted cameras utilized.

Sporadically, brief cuts will reveal an image so soft, compressed, and noisy, it would barely qualify as a DVD. If you look quickly at 1:25:38, you can see massive blocks of artifacting, and thick video noise. The frame is unbearably soft. A wholly digital special effects shot at 1:21:18 carries the same look. These are the only shots (and there are more of them) that seem out of place. As the grainy/noisy appearance becomes the norm, it is easily ignored.

There is little doubt it adds a level of grit to the frame, although videophiles are going to become distracted. A harsh level of noise seems to take over Matt Damon’s face at 1:24:05, a far cry from the close-ups earlier. What is lacks in detail, it makes up for with accuracy, the impressively done compression properly handled. The final shot of the film, a long shot from the air of some oil refineries, is spectacular. Detail is visible on the holding tanks well into the distance, a nice way to remind viewers before the fade to black that this transfer is in great shape, even if the style can make you think otherwise.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Green Zone opens with bombs dropping before a frame of video is even shown. Just before the static credits end, the subwoofer catches a huge boom, satisfyingly smooth and and aggressive. Once the actual film starts, panicked citizens flee, screams evident in all channels distinctly. Dirt and debris shower the viewer as the buildings shake, a fine start for this DTS-HD effort.

This moves into a shoot-out, where the open, empty space creates room-filling gunfire. The crispness to each shot fired is spectacular, lending a natural, clean quality to the audio. Directionality is precise, generating a strong level of immersion. Non-action is generally strong as well, creating a base level of ambiance. Outside of the airport as officials land, reporters chatter around the key characters, and other aircraft are evident circling above. Dialogue is balanced well. A small riot about 18-minutes in captures yelling from the Iraq citizens in every channel, and as they pound on the Humvees to the same effect.

The final, extensive action sequence has a helicopter that crashes with some punishing bass (1:34:24), plus its out of control rotor spins through the stereo channels. Heavy gunfire engulfs the soundfield on a consistent basis, keeping the viewer firmly planted in the middle. It is impressive, and even important to the film’s activity level.

Audio ★★★★★ 

A commentary from Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon can be viewed as a picture-in-picture track or just listened to as audio. The same goes for some deleted scenes. Matt Damon: Ready for Action sounds like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, but is a general featurette about the real troops used in the movie reacting to meeting him. Inside the Green Zone is the standard but well done making-of at 8:53 in length.

U-Control offers some additional PiP features, followed by D-Box support and general BD-Live access.

Extras ★★★☆☆