Published March 11, 2010
While "The Hurt Locker" was largely apolitical in its stance on the war, some say "The Green Zone" goes too far in blaming the United States government, and that it manipulates the audience into rooting against American troops.
The movie centers on Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, played by Damon, who is assigned to search for weapons of mass destruction in the weeks following the shock-and-awe campaign of 2003. When Miller encounters roadblocks in his search, he launches a one-man internal investigation into the United States government's intelligence gathering operations, forming a secret alliance against the men he is sworn to protect in order to get the bottom of what he believes is a conspiracy.
Given this set-up, audiences are encouraged to root for Miller's rogue activities and against the government, represented in the film by a corrupt Pentagon chief played by Greg Kinnear.
The line between good guy and bad guy becomes fuzzy -- so much so that audiences are unsure whether to cheer on Sunni Iraqi insurgents as they shoot down a helicopter filled with American soldiers sent to assassinate them on the Pentagon's request.
Movie reviewer Kyle Smith went so far as to label the film "slander" and "appallingly anti-American."
"It's one thing to make a fantasy film laced with snarky jibes at the United States and its military," Smith wrote in the New York Post this week. "It's of another order entirely for an American studio (Universal, a unit of GE) to perpetrate, during an ongoing war, such vicious anti-American lies disguised as cheap entertainment.
"'Green Zone' isn't cinema," Smith wrote. "It's slander. It will go down in history as one of the most egregiously anti-American movies ever released by a major studio."
The Buffalo News reported that two older couples walked out of a Tuesday night screening of the film, but the News' arts editor, Jeff Simon, was kinder than Smith in his evaluation. He wrote that the movie is "good in almost exactly the way film audiences have found off-putting about a war we're still ashamed to think too much about."
The film's star, for one, sits squarely in the camp of actors often labeled as the Hollywood liberal elite, says Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group.
"I don't think there is any doubt of where Matt Damon falls in the political spectrum. He is an outspoken liberal and earnest about it," Graham told Fox411. "He's not doing it to get ahead. It would be one thing if you had an actor in this movie who is not very political, but it is another thing when you have an actor who picks vehicles like this because it gives them the chance to espouse their political views in a fictional format."
Universal declined comment for this story.
Tackling an ongoing and polarizing conflict like the Iraq war is no small feat, said war reporter Stephanie Gaskell, who traveled to Iraq in 2007.
"The war in Iraq has deeply divided our country, so it makes sense that moviegoers will be divided over 'Green Zone'," she told Fox411. "I think we saw with 'The Hurt Locker' that Americans may not be ready to deal with the politics of the Iraq war yet. That's why 'Hurt Locker' was so well received, because it didn't delve into all that."
Director Paul Greengrass, best known for his success with the action-packed Jason Bourne franchise, also starring Damon, and the 9/11 film "United 93" brought in veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to play secondary roles in "Green Zone." Some were selected from the anti-war group of returning soldiers, "Iraq Veterans Against the War."
In an interview with Charlie Rose this week, Greengrass said the issue at hand isn't whether you are for or against the war.
"The problem, I think, for me is that something about that event strained all the bonds and sinews that connect us all together," he said. "For me it’s to do with the fact that they said they had the intelligence, and then it emerged later that they did not."
Robert Miller, who served in the Army's 82nd paratrooper unit from 2001 to 2005 was one of the Iraq veterans who was cast as a soldier in the movie. He says he thinks it is unfortunate that some critics are painting the film in a negative light.
"I would take offense if there was anything that was anti-troops in the movie or that I thought was despicable, but there isn't. It's an action movie," Miller told Fox411.
"It's just entertaining. I enjoyed it when I watched it. I wouldn't say it's an actual depiction of events that happened over there. It's Jason Bourne does Iraq."