24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Green Zone

'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:

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Los Angeles Times week in Hollywood (March 19, 2010)

March 20, 2010 |  2:08 pm

A quiet weekend at the box office means that "Alice in Wonderland" has even more room to flourish, even as studios worry about a growing shortage of 3D screens. The Times' John Horn and Steven Zeitchik break down the week in Hollywood, also looking at just what it is that made "Green Zone" fail, and why "Hot Tub Time Machine" can help MGM -- but not in the way you'd expect.


Hot Tub Time Machine: The gross-out comedy as '80's-movie rummage sale

Time Warner still mulling MGM bid as deadline passes

Why Green Zone failed

Fight over 3D screens heats up with high-pressure tactics

Scene Stealer: 'Green Zone' piles on the cameras

March 18, 2010 | 12:00 am

Paul Greengrass' films are known for kinetic action and lightning-quick editing, and his latest, the Iraq war thriller "Green Zone," is no exception. Greengrass and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd shot the action sequences in long, continuous takes with multiple cameras that had staggered start times, so one camera would be filming while another was reloading. "This allowed the actors to inhabit their environments more fully," explained editor and co-producer Christopher Rouse, who had to then break the raw footage down into categories (coverage of a single character, for instance) before cutting the scenes together. Up to 20 minutes of action needed to be boiled down to a few minutes on-screen, with individual shots ranging from a few seconds to as little as six frames. "Like the actors, I try to inhabit the scene so that I'm making intuitive choices rather than purely cognitive ones," Rouse said.

-- Patrick Kevin Day


Scene Stealer: Stormy doings on 'Shutter Island'
Scene Stealer: Working with 'Frozen's' wolves
Scene Stealer: 'Wolfman' and the secrets of torture tech

Why 'Green Zone' failed

March 15, 2010 |  5:36 pm

It's dispiriting to sit back today and soak in just how poorly "Green Zone" performed over the weekend, earning a meager $14.3 million. Depression sets in because the Paul Greengrass movie is legitimately great, a potent thriller and action picture that entertains no matter your politics (we're not the only ones who feel this way -- the movie is the second best-reviewed wide release of the year according to meta-review site Movie Review Intelligence).

But what's even more discouraging about the results is that they offer definitive proof that even the highest-quality filmmaking and the most palatable marketing hook can't save a movie set in a tumultuous Middle East. This was a movie retailed as a Jason Bourne-like thriller made by the director and the star of same, with all the double-crosses, chases and explosions one would want from such a union. And yet no matter how deftly it was executed, audiences didn't see past the topicality. The simple presence of Iraq kept people home, as it has before for films of so many different stripes, tones and budgets.

What's less clear -- and, indeed, what gets under our skin -- is the debate over how specific politics are responsible for the film's failure. "Did politics sink Matt Damon's 'The Green Zone'?" an Atlantic blog asks. Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood compares the opening of "Green Zone," unfavorably, to the Damon-Greengrass collaborations "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum" and implies that politics did this one in. "Gee, I wonder what the difference was [compared to those films]?" the piece asks sarcastically. (Never mind that those two movies were sequels based on a huge Robert Ludlum franchise.)

And in a New York Times op-ed column today, Ross Douthat faults "Green Zone" for "refus[ing] to stare real tragedy in the face, preferring the comforts of a 'Bush lied, people died' reductionism." (Incidentally that's not true -- sure, there's a one-note Paul Bremer-Douglas Feith character played by Greg Kinnear. But the movie is rolling in nuance and is particularly adept at showing internecine Iraqi tribal politics, something no scripted feature has previously done well.)

But even accepting Douthat's one-dimensionality argument, it's hard to see how that played a role in the picture's dismal box office. Douthat draws a contrast to a little Iraq movie that just swept the Oscars. " 'The Hurt Locker,' of course, was largely apolitical," he writes. "Throw politics into the mix, and there seems to be no escaping the clichés and simplifications that mar Greengrass’s movie."

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Los Angeles Times week in Hollywood (March 12, 2010)

March 12, 2010 |  2:13 pm

Corey Haim's death provided a somber note in Hollywood this week, while this weekend "Green Zone" could again prove that Iraq war movies are a tough sell to audiences, even with marketable elements. The Times' John Horn and Steven Zeitchik break it down like a Kia on a cross-country road trip.


'Green Zone': The Wall Street Journal takes sniper fire

An Iraq war movie with a 'Bourne' feel

License to Cry: Why Corey Haim's death matters (sort of)

Former teen idol Corey Haim dead at 38

'Green Zone': The Wall Street Journal takes sniper fire

March 4, 2010 |  2:45 pm


Journalists have been dramatized as fearless heroes in any number of modern movies -- a slate that includes "All the President's Men," "A Mighty Heart" and "State of Play." But the fictional reporter from the Wall Street Journal in "Green Zone" is an easily manipulated dupe, and the newspaper says it wasn't consulted about how it and its correspondent were going to be depicted in the Iraq war drama.

As played by Amy Ryan in the Paul Greengrass-directed movie opening March 12, reporter Lawrie Dayne bears an intentional (and unmistakable) resemblance to Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter whose stories about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction helped build the case for the American-led invasion. (The film also draws upon other real-life characters who were involved in the war as inspiration for loosely fictionalized characters.) At one point in "Green Zone," Roy Miller (Matt Damon), an Army officer futilely searching for WMDs in and around Baghdad, confronts Dayne, challenging her professionalism and reporting about the existence of the weapons.

"Jesus Christ, this is the reason we went to war," Miller tells her at one point. "How does someone like you write something that's not true?"

Greengrass and Helgeland said that while the character was inspired by Miller, the character wasn't meant to be a clone. "I didn't want her to be Judith Miller," says Greengrass, who directed Damon in the last two "Bourne" movies. "I wanted her to feel like somebody who has been duped." Added screenwriter Brian Helgeland: "In our movie, we make her feel more victim of the process than willing participant."

In the film's original screenplay, Dayne was identified as a reporter for the New York Times, but the legal departments at Universal Pictures and producing partner Working Title Films changed her affiliation to the Wall Street Journal so that audiences wouldn't confuse the character with an actual journalist. Universal said it was under no legal obligation to inform the Wall Street Journal of the change or the depiction.

A spokesman for the Journal, Robert H. Christie, said in an e-mail that "no one has seen the movie, so we will decline comment." That might change next Friday.

-- John Horn

Photo: Matt Damon in "Green Zone." Credit: Universal Pictures.



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