Did Politics Sink Matt Damon's 'Green Zone'?

The Iraq War thriller tanked in its opening weekend

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Unlike Oscar-winning critical darling and Iraq war movie The Hurt Locker, the new Iraq thriller Green Zone, starring Matt Damon, has been a critical flop. It's also performing poorly at the box office, taking in $14.5 million on its opening weekend despite a $100 million budget. Many commentators are connecting the film's failings to its putative politics. The story takes place in post-invasion Iraq during the 2003 hunt for weapons of mass destruction, which was of course fruitless. Did ideology sink this movie?

  • Reality Not So Black And White  The New York Times' Ross Douthat posits that Americans are "uncomfortable with tragedy" like the misguided Iraq invasion and wrongly paint such mistakes as matters of pure good-versus-evil. This is a tend in "our political fictions, which are nearly always Manichaean, simplistic and naïve." The film "refuses to stare real tragedy in the face, preferring the comforts of a 'Bush lied, people died' reductionism."
  • The Banality of Reality  The American Conservative's Daniel Larison says the real villains aren't the shadowy military figures of Green Zone but ordinary bungling politicians. "The unfortunate truth of our existence is that villains do not have to come out of central casting for comic book movies. They are ordinary, 'decent' people who commit grave errors and terrible crimes for any number of reasons. Many great evils have found their origins in a group’s belief that they were doing the right thing and were therefore entitled and permitted to use extraordinary means." He adds of our inability to confront the banal truth, "When that changes, perhaps we will have more complicated storytelling that does not simply vilify the people responsible for a great crime. However, since there will apparently be no accountability for our leaders in the real world, we may have to settle for the inadequate stories we have now."
  • Iraq Isn't Entertainment Fodder  The Guardian's James Denselow shakes his head at high-adrenaline thrillers that attempt to explain real issues. "It can be argued that such adrenaline-fuelled dramatisations of the conflict distance people from any ability to understand actual events," he writes. However, he suggests that its high entrainment value could help get across the message in a way that dry policy discussions cannot.
  • Americans Reject Anti-Military Movie  Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood scoffs with a reference to Avatar. "The moral of the story? If you’re going to trash America and the troops, use Smurfs," he writes. "Compare that to the opening weekend figures for the two previous collaborations between director Paul Greengrass and Damon." He lists the Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum, which opened with over $50 million each. "Gee, I wonder what the difference was?"
  • It's Just A Movie  Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias notes that Big Hollywood also attacked the Bourne films as anti-American. So if those films are all ideologically liberal yet Green Zone fared worse, maybe the ideology is not to blame. "I’m gonna say it’s only a movie, and neither the popularity of the Bourne series nor the unpopularity of Green Zone has a great deal to do with hard-left ideologues."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.