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'Green Zone': One informed soldier's perspective

March 30, 2010 |  3:08 pm

Iraq 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." MET Bravo in Iraq

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.

1 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.

1

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



 
Comments () | Archives (5)

The comments to this entry are closed.

The reason this film and The Hurt Locker failed at the box office is because the average American knows that film makers are antiwar, anti-military, anti-reality and pro-fictional action/adventure. The average American knows that the hard work their brothers/sisters/sons/daughters/parents performed in Iraq was good and just. US Service Members in Iraq are professionals and volunteers all. The fighting and rebuilding we did in Iraq has reaped great rewards for us and the Iraqi people in terms of freedom, democracy and prosperity. And this is only the beginning for Iraq. The US has gained an ally on the border of our most dangerous enemy, Iran. Saddam Hussein and his regime killed with chemical weapons of mass destruction more than once and was seeking nuclear weapons. If we had listened to our leftist pacifist, like we did at the beginning of WWII, we would sooner or later have suffered an attack much worse than the Twin Towers. I wait patiently for a film maker to have the courage to produce a movie about American heroes who volunteer to be on the bloody line not because their leaders tricked them, but because they knew what they were doing and they did it well.

I,for one anyway,do not like to be misled intentionally.I do not like to see my friend's misled and believing thing's that are untrue.I think these movie maker's are dangerous propagandizer's and have had a big result in Anti-American sentiment.What they don't realize is straying from the truth legitimize's one to stray from the truth in return.In other words,they lose credibility to object the Pro-War alternative.But much of the entire Anti-War movement is lesser intelligent individual's and their supporter's Youthful and less educated.

I think you are both wrong. These films are not doing well because Americans do not feel comfortable watching Iraq war movies while our soldiers are still in harms way. Movies are supposed to be entertaining. Going to the movies and being reminded of the fact that US soldiers are still dying is not entertainment. It is true that support for the war is weak, but that is more about us caring more for our soldiers than the plight of other countries.

The problem, of course, is that the uninformed and uneducated sheep masses will look at "Green Zone" and think it IS fact, and won't sniff anywhere near the History channel doc (if one ever gets made). Thank God barely anyone saw this lying turkey except, most likely, the choir.

Well said Brian,

I thought the movie, from an entertainment perspective, was successful. However, I am weary with Hollywood's propensity (and the American audience's gullibility) to participate in what could be kindly described as "revisionist history". No matter how noble the desired impact of these kinds of films might be (if Paul was aiming at planting disturbing anti-war-in-Iraq thoughts in the heads of the average movie-goer, especially given the aforementioned gullibility, he was probably successful for the few who saw it), I personally believe that this kind of public rhetoric is dangerous.

I hope, like Brian, that at some point in the future an excellent and even handed documentary could be done on the experience of the MET teams and that we would all learn from it to the betterment of our future.

Kirt Lewis
(Former Specialist, US Army and member of MET Alpha)


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