05/09/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: Green Zone

You get the feeling that director Paul Greengrass wouldn't know what to do with a camera that was locked into position -- on a tripod, for example, or a dolly. He seems that committed to jittery handheld camera work.

It's something of a trademark, whether in dramatized nonfiction such as Bloody Sunday and United 93 or amped-up action like his two installments of the Jason Bourne saga.

For Green Zone, he once more employs his patented unsteady-cam, this time in Baghdad, a month after the invasion known as Shock & Awe that toppled Saddam Hussein. Never mind that the war was launched on the false pretense of removing weapons of mass destruction (or, as Karl Rove's new memoir would have it, it was launched because of bad intelligence, the watch word of the Bush administration).

"Inspired" by a nonfiction book by Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Green Zone recounts the botched takeover of Iraq, in which clueless American bureaucrats made every wrong decision possible (see the award-winning doc No End in Sight by Charles Ferguson, or read Chandrasekaran's book). Actually, that destructive occupation -- which led to the massive insurgency that followed -- is the backdrop for the story in Brian Helgeland's script.

The film itself focuses on Roy Miller (Matt Damon), an Army chief warrant officer who heads a squad tasked with finding those WMD (he never says "WMDs"). It's four weeks after the invasion (which occurred seven years ago next week) and three separate missions have cost him men but turned up nothing, despite what is supposedly solid intelligence.

But when he tries to question the source of those intel reports, he's treated like a skunk at a garden party and shut down with reminders that, in the chain of command, his job is not to question orders, only follow them. In particular, he's given the evil eye by Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), the head of the American mission (and an obvious stand-in for Bush lackey Paul Bremer, author of the worst policies implemented in the first weeks of the occupation).

But Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), a disgruntled CIA station chief, offers Miller a sympathetic ear. He too is suffering from bad information and doesn't trust Poundstone. But Poundstone has more suck with the White House.

On one of his WMD hunts, Miller is approached by an Iraqi civilian (Khalid Abdalla), who offers to lead him to a meeting where high-ranking officials of the toppled Saddam government are in attendance. Though Miller doesn't catch the big fish - a general who is the jack of clubs on that deck of cards the U.S. issued with Saddam's family and staff on them - he does get a clue as to what he's up against. That would be, again, Poundstone, who wants to erase evidence that he fabricated the intel about WMD - and is willing to use Special Forces to cover his tracks.

If you have a memory longer than the average American voter - and actually paid attention to the campaign to hide the truth during those years of Mission Accomplished and preemptive war - you'll find numerous characters who correspond with real-life equivalents. The pieces don't always match the facts, but, beside Poundstone for Bremer, there's a stand-in for Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi huckster-exile that American forces tried unsuccessfully to install as the new prime minister. There's also one for Judith Miller, the disgraced New York Times reporter who piped bogus information about Iraq's nonexistent WMD programs onto that paper's front page in the run-up to the war. Here, she's a Wall Street Journal reporter played by Amy Ryan.

This is a movie which, given a stronger sense of purpose, might have recounted exactly those failings and shown in stark relief how we were hoodwinked into war.