March 13th, 2010

breaking bad

Green Zone

Last night I went to see Green Zone, directed by Paul Greengrass who directed the last two Bourne films and United 93, all of which I really liked. This film is stylistically extremely modern, and thematically very old fashioned Hollywood liberal.

(ETA I realise that in this discussion I don't make explicit that it's a film about the Iraq war)

The cinematography and editing are almost avant-garde, and during the action sequences they reminded me of Marcel Duchamp, all broken up into yellow fragments. The camerawork at times of stress becomes extremely wobbly, and rather than using the modern convention 'as if the shot of a single hand-held embedded in mis-en-scene', it seems to be composed as a collage of overlapping slightly different angles from dozens of different hand helds. There was a fight where Matt Damon disarms a man with a gun on him, which was very much like the Bourne films, but the whole thing was much more fragmented and choppy. I personally thought that at the action climax of the film this fragmentation went on far too long, but I do understand it was a deliberate attempt to convey the confusion and overwhelming chaos of a war situation. The editing was technically very impressive.

The word 'liberal' is nowadays used to abuse anyone left of Dick Cheney, but it has an older history as a term of abuse by socialists like me. In that context a Hollywood liberal film is one which turns the systemic structural injustices of society into character building exercises, where a noble white male professional (like a lawyer) protects a disabled and/or ethnic minority person with a childlike name and courageous demeanour. A blond female reporter looks on appreciatively. When the Truth is Made Known, typically by exposing a single corrupt official, the situation is happily resolved. Job done, American values reasserted.

Of course one shares the basic values of the Hollywood liberal - hatred of war or racism or lies - but one doubts that the lies are an error which has crept into the system. One suspects that the lies are endemic, are what creates the system. There may be some suggestion in this film that the lies go right through, but for such a serious subject I thought it was a weak exposition. Perhaps it will get the message across better than a more developed film.

I had to laugh though, when the blond female reporter first comes to realise that - gasp - perhaps Washington officials had lied to her. Oh noes! And all the other cynical reporters and political appointees were fooled too! How could they have been so naively trusting! Doh. Luckily at the end they email the truth to the Guardian and as we know everything went fine from then on.