Paul Greengrass talks 'Green Zone'
Paul Greengrass sees his new film 'Green Zone' as a continuation of the concerns he raised in 'United 93' and the 'Bourne' movies, he tells Ben Walters
Surrey-born Paul Greengrass, 54, director of ‘Green Zone’ (see review p71), worked on ‘World in Action’ and ‘Cutting Edge’ before making the TV films ‘The Murder of Stephen Lawrence’ and ‘Bloody Sunday’. He was hired by Universal Studios to direct ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ (2004) and ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ (2007), and ‘United 93’ (2006). His new film, inspired by Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book ‘Imperial Life in the Emerald City’, features Matt Damon as a US officer trying to make sense of the situation in Iraq following the 2003 invasion.
You’ve been developing ‘Green Zone’ for some time. How did it come about?
‘In 2004, it was obvious that two events were driving our world: 9/11 and the war in Iraq. One of the reasons the “Bourne” films worked was because I took them closer to the real world. At one level, it’s a preposterous story about an amnesiac assassin, but it distilled that fear and paranoia and mistrust that was out there, particularly among young people. I wanted to engage with that directly. I thought it would be one film, but it turned out to be two: “United 93” and “Green Zone”. As “United 93” was the way to get to the heart of 9/11, the hunt for WMD felt like the way to get to the heart of what was happening in Iraq, to get to the reality of an event that’s been so politically overlaid. How did they get it so wrong?’
Did you always want Matt Damon?
‘Yes, from the start. The idea was to have a character believing his cause was just and then starting to ask questions. It’s a conspiracy thriller in a genre sense and that was the way to bring a broad audience to the piece.
‘I couldn’t see the whole picture until I read Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book and I thought: Of course, he’s going to the Green Zone and will encounter these inexperienced, highly political people who proceeded to enact this folly of democracy-building with utter incompetence, vicious in-fighting and no regard for the region and its history.’
So the ‘Bourne’ films, ‘United 93’ and ‘Green Zone’ are all connected?
‘They’re all films about the Bush years. The “Bourne” films are the popcorn version; “United 93” is very spare and sober. This time I wanted to make something in between. Here was this large audience, mostly young and male, that loved “Bourne” – that’s the people who are being asked to fight this war and that’s the audience that most related to this paranoia and mistrust. I wanted to invite that audience to take one step back and recognise that the origin of all that is in the real world.
‘Most people, broadly speaking, believed what they were told [about the dangers of WMD] so the Matt Damon character is us. We can have the Chilcot Enquiry and this, that and the other, but in the end we know you got us into this thing and it wasn’t wise and you trimmed and rigged and did whatever you did. And what’s going to happen next time we need people to trust us?’
Films about Iraq and 9/11 haven’t generally done well at the box office.
‘I’m really interested to see what happens. If “Green Zone” does succeed, it’ll suggest that experience is starting to be processed. That’s really what popular culture’s about – it distils what’s going on and represents it in ways that speak to a broad audience. When you watch “The Dark Knight” you can feel that happening. That’s why I enjoy bigger pieces.
‘It’s easy to say all big films in Hollywood are shit, but there are certain things you can do in that beating furnace of popular culture. Engaging a large audience doesn’t mean you can’t engage with the real world or be thematically bold. It’s a matter of picking the right stories and the right characters.'
Read our review of 'Green Zone'.
Author: Interview: Ben Walters
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