It is 2003, and the Iraq War has just begun. Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) has been running some missions trying to find Weapons of Mass Destruction, but for some reason every place his team hits comes up empty. When he raises concern over the quality of the intel he is getting regarding the WMD, his superiors dodge the question.
Miller then sets off to find out what is really going on regarding the weapons, and he is aided in his quest by Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), a CIA official, Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan), a writer for the Wall Street Journal, and Freddie (Khalid Abdalla), an Iraqi civilian. He hopes to be able to find out the truth from an Iraqi government official known only as "Magellan" but this earns him the wrath of US government official Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), who has a Special Forces team under his command...
Not to be confused with Green Hill Zone.
This movie provides examples of:
- Armies Are Evil: Played with. Miller and his CBRN squad are depicted as ordinary, decent men trying to do a thankless, dangerous, frustrating job. Only one of them displays any negativity, and then it's only apathy, not malice. On the other hand, the Special Forces Miller has to deal with are depicted as secretive jerks, and whoever's running the detention facility... don't seem to care that much about the horrific treatment of them men inside.
- Big Bad: Poundstone.
- Bittersweet Ending: With a possible helping of It Was His Sled. Miller is unable to get al-Rawi alive, but he manages to write a report based on what he got from him and send it to all major news agencies. However, Poundstone gets away with what he did, and of course the Iraq War drags on with little progress for another 7 years.
- The movie itself ends with Miller leading another patrol into war-torn Iraq, now made worse by Poundstone's political gambit of outlawing the Baath party.
- Can't Stop The Signal: The film ends with Miller sending a report containing evidence of the non-existence of "Magellan" and other misdeeds from the U.S. Government that led to the war happening to every major news service on the planet.
- The Dragon: The special forces team sent by Poundstone, led by Major Briggs.
- Driving Question: Who is Magellan?
- Elites Are More Glamorous: Subverted. The SF team led by Briggs are little more than henchmen for Poundstone, even willing to murder Miller and members of his squad if they get in their way.
- Foregone Conclusion: The war will continue to drag on for years. No matter what these fictional-but-based-on-real-people characters do, it's not affecting that.
- From Bad to Worse: Poundstone, finding out that Miller and the CIA are close to capturing Al-Rawi - the top Baath leader who could stabilize Iraq but destroy Poundstone's plans for a pro-American regime - impulsively gives an unplanned order that bans all Baathists from political power in order to preempt that move. This escalates the pushback against the U.S. occupation and ups the level of violence and chaos just as Miller is captured and tortured by Al-Rawi.
- Gray-and-Gray Morality: Poundstone wants to justify the invasion with WMDs, but fully believes that Iraq needed democracy, and the US gave it to them. The Baath party (Saddam Hussein's government) is trying to figure out how to eventually co-operate with the Coalition and rebuild for a better Iraq, but they also happen to be a bunch of war criminals and corrupt men. Miller and the CIA are trying to figure out what's going on and set things right, and want Al-Rawi, a war criminal, alive to assist in rebuilding Iraq. Freddy knows Al-Rawi to be a monster and, when he realizes that Miller is trying to rescue Al-Rawi, Freddy kills Al-Rawi for his crimes.
- Hellish Copter: Al Rawi's men shoot down a Delta Force helicopter with an RPG. The shot made it into the trailer, as it probably was expensive to shoot.
- Karma Houdini: Poundstone gets no comeuppance whatsoever. Compare this to his real-life counterpart L. Paul Bremer.
- The movie ends with the Iraq coalition fracturing because no one wants Poundstone's puppet Iraqi leading them, hinting that Poundstone — like Bremer — is going to fail in his efforts and the best we can have for a comeuppance is seeing him watch his puppet government fall into chaos and realizing he will be blamed for the mess.
- Let's Get Dangerous!: Near the end of the movie, Freddie suddenly comes out of nowhere to shoot and kill General Al-Rawi, before Miller could get Al-Rawi to prove anything to the higher-ups. Miller is rightly upset by this anticlimactic event (and the audience probably is too). However, Freddie's explanation for his actions succinctly sums up everything his character stands for (the freedom and sovereignty of the Iraqi people) with "It is not for you to decide what happens here."
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Although more of an antagonist, Poundstone was keen on bringing "democratic reforms" to a liberated country. However, by outlawing the powerful Baath faction within Iraq, Poundstone made it impossible for the other Iraqi factions to accept the puppet regime he was hoping to put into power. By dissolving the Iraqi Army, he also radicalizes tens of thousands of trained soldiers and their commanders, putting them in direct opposition to the puppet government and the Western occupiers, laying the groundwork for the bloody years of insurgency and guerrilla warfare that follow.
- The Reveal: Magellan - the source for the American claims of WMDs in Iraq - never existed. Poundstone lied about meeting Iraqi contacts and fed the stories to reporters like Lawrie to justify the invasion.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Miller spends the entire film attempting to save Al-Rawi, who is needed to forward the US agenda in reconstructing Iraq. Al-Rawi is killed by Freddy after a giant chase that ends in several special forces members killed.
- The Place: The movie is titled "Green Zone" (which is an area of safety from fighting), despite the fact that not much of the movie's action takes place in Baghdad's Green Zone, nor deals with the Green Zone itself.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: All of the characters have a real life counterpart.
- Visual Pun: A cut to children playing immediately follows a discussion about the future of Iraq, and the film ends with a shot of an oil refinery.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Once it becomes clear that Al-Rawi alive and able to tell the world that Iraq had no WMD and Poundstone lied about the intel he provided to justify the invasion, Poundstone spares no cost to eliminate the General and anyone else with this knowledge.