'Green Zone': One informed soldier's perspective
When it comes to watching Universal's "Green Zone," Brian Siefkes is not a disinterested observer.
Siefkes served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was a member of the Army's Mobile Exploitation Team Bravo, which carried out the hunt in Iraq for the highly touted (but ultimately nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction -- the heart of the "Green Zone" plot.
What's more, Siefkes appears as an actor in "Green Zone," playing Keating, the right-hand adviser to Matt Damon's U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller.
In the film's press kit, Siefkes is quoted praising the film's accuracy. "What you see us doing in this film is an accurate representation of what we did over there," he said in the film's publicity materials. "It's what we experienced."
Now, having seen the finished movie, Siefkes has a more complicated appraisal of how his part in the movie came together, some of the disputes surrounding its production, and how much creative license director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland took in bringing the story to the screen. It's not the only recent war movie whose accuracy has been debated--similar conversations were held around "The Hurt Locker."
Although the film received largely enthusiastic reviews (including nice notices from Times critic Kenneth Turan and Chicago Sun-Times reviewer Roger Ebert), "Green Zone" flopped at the box office, putting one more stake in the Middle East conflict movie coffin. There are many theories about why audiences stayed away, as the $100-million "Green Zone" only has grossed $30.8 million in its first 17 days of release, just slightly more than what Greengrass' previous film, "The Bourne Ultimatum," grossed in its first day.
24 Frames asked Siefkes for his thoughts about the film, and here's what he has to say:
The film "Green Zone" recently hit theaters and has been subject to some very interesting debate.
I played Keating in the film, Roy Miller’s (Matt Damon) driver and behind-the-scenes technical consultant, one of many. I am no actor; if you saw the movie you probably noticed. I was asked to participate in the film because I am veteran of the U.S. Army that served on the MET teams on which the movie is loosely based.
In 2003 there were two MET teams tasked with conducting the main search for chemical weapons in Iraq. Monty Gonzales, who Matt Damon’s character is based on, was the Alpha team leader while I was on the Bravo team. Needless to say, our search was fruitless, but it was certainly not without its own elements of political intrigue and action-packed missions.
Fast forward five years. I get the call from (co-producer) Michael Bronner that they are making a film, "Green Zone," based on the events surrounding the MET teams all those years ago. He tells me that the director is Paul Greengrass, the same that created "United 93," in my opinion the best look at the events of 9/11. Of course I jumped at the chance to participate and flew off to Spain to start filming with the likes of Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear and Amy Ryan.
Once filming began, it was interesting to see the re-creation of events that I was so familiar with. Dominic Watkins, the set designer, must have completely immersed himself in photos of the sites we were inspecting in Iraq because he re-created them incredibly well. The MET team was cast with about 12 guys, 10 veterans and two actors, Nicoye Banks and Damon. Both Matt and Nicoye picked up on the military camaraderie and lingo very quickly and the whole team came together as well as you would expect a real Army unit.
As filming moved along I began to notice things that were pretty far outside the scope of what actually happened on the MET teams. It was around that time that some of the veterans and I expressed to Paul that we were becoming uncomfortable with events being portrayed in the film, particularly a scene involving torture.
Paul gathered us all around in a private setting and began to talk with us about his views on the war itself and what he wanted to portray in the film. He was very open and honest with us and listened to our concerns. After the talk, we had a much better understanding that Paul wanted to create an action thriller that would not only make the audience feel like they were with us in Iraq but also take them on an adventure filled with political conspiracy and a hero against all odds. After talking with Paul I felt less anticipation that this would be an accurate portrayal of the MET teams and more of an action-packed thriller set in Iraq.
So after two years, "Green Zone" finally hit the theaters. That’s a long time from filming to the screen. Coupling that with Paul’s penchant for creating a dynamic movie that evolves as it goes, I really had no idea what to expect when I watched it at the New York premiere. After seeing the film, my first thought was “brace for impact." No, that wasn’t in response to the heart-stopping action, of which there was plenty, it was because of the elements in the film that have given critics so much fodder. The parallels to reality along with the plot of a conspiring government representative make it incredibly difficult to separate this film from your personal thoughts on the war in Iraq and entertainment.
So what’s my take on the film? While I don’t agree with the politics portrayed in the film I still enjoyed it for its edge-of-your-seat action. Matt, as always, does a great job of playing the hero against all odds. The performance that really stole the show for me was Khalid Abdalla who played the MET team’s interpreter, Freddy. Watching Khalid work was impressive. His passion came across very genuine and he gave the film the emotion that it needed.
After I got home from the war I always felt that the question of WMD in Iraq was never fully answered. We all know that there were no stockpiles or production facilities, but few know of what actually happened during the search. Since this film, my friends and family have all been asking me the same question, “How much of 'Green Zone' was true?” The short answer is very little. The long answer is a very interesting story that I believe should be told in detail. Hopefully the History Channel or some other major outlet will take the initiative to present the facts and end the debate once and for all.
-- John Horn
Photo of Brian Siefkes in Iraq: Brian Siefkes
Photo of Siefkes' MET Bravo team in Iraq: Brian Siefkes
Photos of Matt Damon in "Green Zone": Jonathan Olley/Universal Pictures