Matt Damon (for the life of me, Team America has ruined my pronunciation of his name) plays soldier Roy Miller, a ground commander in charge of finding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in the early days of 2003 in Iraq, following the “Shock and Awe” campaign. Within the first ten minutes we see that he’s tired all over of going to “hot” sites and finding excrement or, in one case, an excrement receiving factory.
Also within the first ten minutes I grew tired of hearing “WMD”. Being in 2011, it’s a tired acronym that just smacks of ineptitude, misdirection, and a phantom target. See, I’d put “SPOILER ALERT” at this point, but if you don’t know the Miller isn’t going to find WMD, that the source of the WMD is a ruse, that even the Iraqi peeps in-the-know claim they never had any (since 1991), then you haven’t read a paper in the last 7 years. So, now that we know the macrocosm of the film in the first few minutes, what else do we have to sell interest?
The bad (“bad”) guys of the picture is the Pentagon Intelligence Analyst, Clark Poundstone, whose name is said sparingly so that we don’t chaff too much at its ridiculous nature. His assets are a Special Forces team who does his bidding, which is mainly to cover up the fact (?) that he made up all that stuff about WMD sites to get the US into the war. Matt Damon has the moral integrity (?) to go against the US mission and get the truth out. Because that’s what we do.
The counter-point of conscience is an Iraqi Army veteran (“Freddy”) who lost his leg in 1987 during the Iran–Iraq War, becomes Miller's translator. He’s trying to do the best for his country by helping out Miller – really the US – to get the Baath baddies left in his country.
Greengrass makes several cases in the film, but its most surprising that Freddy’s case is actually made at all, given the moralistic speeches Miller gives about trust. We get that lying about WMD was bad, and that the US’ involvement in the war is largely attributable to this magguffin. But, as Freddy points out (and takes action later), the Iraqi people are going to control their own destiny, not the US. When he shoots the general – in cold blood – that Miller has been trying to save to show the world Poundstone lied, he says (paraphrasing) that Iraq is not yours to control. It doesn’t matter how or why you got here, but from here on out, we’re going to take advantage of you ridding our country of this dictator.
That message, while laudable for including in a film focused so much on WMD, is also kind of the problem with the film. The message that it doesn’t matter to Iraqis any more how got you here, because they have bigger issues to solve than American guilt, we’ve got a country to fix. In other words, I felt that the film itself is telling me that I should be getting over the film.
The mixed message conjures an internal greater-good discussion, about if I had a time-machine and could have prevented the whole WMD fiasco, (a) would it have prevented the Iraq War and (b) would I want to prevent it in the first place? The film says that answer depends on if you are an American or an Iraqi citizen. And it also says it’s irrelevant because we don’t have a time machine so get over it.