Page last updated at 08:15 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010

Green Zone keeps Iraq on movie agenda

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

Green Zone
Matt Damon goes on the hunt for WMDs in the Iraqi desert in Green Zone

Fans of Iraq war movies are having a good week.

The release of Paul Greengrass's Baghdad-set conspiracy thriller Green Zone comes just days after the success of Kathryn Bigelow's Hurt Locker at the Oscars.

"It's great that Hurt Locker was made and I'm thrilled that it's getting the recognition that it does," says Greengrass, speaking before Bigelow's triumph at the Academy Awards.

"Speaking as somebody who has tried to make film set in that part of the world, anybody else who's done one gets absolutely total respect from me."

Green Zone sees director Greengrass reunited with Matt Damon (after their Jason Bourne sequels) for a story set amid the early days of the US-led occupation of Iraq in 2003.

Damon plays the leader of an army team which has been ordered to find weapons of mass destruction believed to be stockpiled in the Iraqi desert. But instead of WMDs they come across an elaborate cover-up.

The film also stars Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson and Jason Isaacs and is inspired by the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon
Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon know the Iraq war is not a big audience draw

Greengrass, who has already tackled the subject of 9/11 with United 93, sees Green Zone and Hurt Locker as part of a cultural reaction to what happened in Iraq.

"I think many many people had a sense that something went wrong, that we collectively didn't quite get things right," he says.

"Whatever the issues, I think one way and another we're struggling out the other side - the Chilcot inquiry in this country is part of that, the election of a new president is democracy renewed.

"I think what's interesting cinematically is the emergence of Hurt Locker - and the fact it's received the critical recognition that it has. It's part of the mysterious ways that popular culture absorbs and processes experiences that occur in the real world."

Audience challenge

Born in Surrey in 1955, Greengrass is no stranger to tackling real-life stories.

He first rose to prominence on ITV's current affairs programme World in Action, and made his feature directing debut in 1989 with Resurrected, based on the true story of a British soldier left behind in the Falklands after the war with Argentina.

Green Zone
Green Zone: What would Tony Blair and George W Bush think of the film?

Greengrass says he wants Green Zone to have broad appeal, but admits that brings its own set of challenges.

Movies about Iraq have not gone down well at the box office. For all Hurt Locker's success, it is the lowest-grossing film ever to win best picture.

"It's pointless to pretend that's not an issue," says Greengrass.

"The challenge after Bourne Ultimatum was could we take a broad audience to this subject.

"People go to the movies for many different reasons - to escape to a fantasy world, to experience love and romance, to laugh - but in that waterfront of movies you need some of your major pieces to engage directly with what's really going on out there."

He cites Dark Knight as a prime example. "Its themes and it darkness and creative ambition are huge, but of course it's a gigantically popular Batman movie."

Green Zone, he admits, is "not Bourne" and Matt Damon is "not playing Jason Bourne".

"It's one step through that curtain into more difficult territory because it's a real world and it's Iraq - a great place to set a thriller," Greengrass says.

Damon admits that Iraq "isn't on the front page" for the US audience.

"If you engage any American in a discussion about war right now, Afghanistan is probably going to come up first, the issues of the economy and jobs are what people are thinking about."

But what would Greengrass hope Tony Blair and George W Bush would take away from Green Zone?

"I'm sure Mr Blair and Mr Bush would find it extremely exciting and dramatic," he laughs.

"In fact I might see if I can set up a screening for them."

Green Zone is in cinemas from 12 March.

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