My favorite scene is when Matt Damon, after some intense action out in the chaotic streets of Baghdad, walks out behind the Republican Palace which we were using as the US "Embassy" to meet his CIA contact by the swimming pool. The look on his face and on his men's faces is perfect. Utter confusion, as though they were wondering, "did we pass out and wake up back in the US somewhere?" That disconnect was spot on and is something I not only experienced in the Green Zone but witnessed on not a few members of the armed forces' faces in that very spot. Not that I was really ever "in the shit", but it was a pretty unreal place and having spent some time out in downtown Baghdad, the Green Zone (officially called The International Zone; Green Zone was "local" slang and I myself always preferred to call it the Interzone) was undeniably a real-life study in stark contrast. Employees of the DoD hanging out and sunbathing in speedos and bikinis, drinking beer and carrying on as though they were trying to really be in Key West, while a half mile away on the other side of mortar walls was a city in pain and disaster at every turn. That to me was what the film captures best all around, and specifically so in this scene.
The other thing the film did really well was the set detail. The embassy pool looked exactly right, as did the Saddam International Airport. The flyover shot of the Green Zone was perfect, from the Hands of Victory monument and the Iraqi Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the Republican Palace itself.
Another detail which I felt was right on was the sort of haphazard occupation of the Palaces in the Interzone. People would just sort of make their sleeping areas wherever there was a corner, their belongings strewn on the sides of hallways, working and living areas side by side, neo-cons in suits and soldiers in uniform, contractors and DoD employees in pocketed cargo pants and shirts all rubbing shoulders. Incidentally, on certain later occasions there were also three very out-of-place Stroudsburg rejects walking those halls wearing their rock-n-roll T-shirts (I think Jeff had a Lou Reed and Scott had a White Stripes. I may have had a ripped Pixies T-shirt at the time) and feeling like we were surrounded by pod people. Especially at lunch time when we'd sit together reading the Stars and Stripes and made fun of the daily propagandist idiocy in a dining hall otherwise full of neo-cons. We really didn't fit in there.
As for the politics of the film; a lot of critics are saying that the film has a heavy liberal bias, is anti-conservative and anti-war. Well, I don't really know when being anti-war became a bad thing, but the film anyway isn't really anti-war. The Matt Damon character is a soldier, and understands why the war was necessary... until it becomes clear that the reasons for the war were lies. He's assigned to a unit that is to search for Saddam's WMDs, which of course we all know by now never existed. It is an anti-conservative film, if by anti-conservative you mean that it's against being lied to by the Neo-cons so that we'd get behind their war like so many patriotic parrot heads. So then also it has a liberal bias, if by liberal you mean a person who dislikes having been tricked into committing murderous devastation upon a city for the sake of the Bush-Cheney agenda. It makes no claims per se on what their real agenda may have been, other than a closing shot of an Iraqi oil refinery. I myself don't really believe that this war was about Iraq's oil, or at least not only about their oil. I think what they wanted was probably a bit more far reaching than that, but until we can put those crooks on a stand, we may never really know.
One of the dumbest criticisms I've seen about the film is that it's not a new message. That we all know by now, even the Republicans, that we were lied to and that there never were any weapons of mass destruction to be found, and that this film doesn't add anything to the story and is really unnecessary. That's stupid. It's a movie, and as such all it needed to accomplish was to put the viewer inside the story it's trying to tell. If you can still make a movie about WWII, you can certainly make a movie about the invasion of Iraq without having to justify yourself beyond that criteria. As for whether or not it accomplishes that agenda, it's hard for me to say. I certainly feel like it's a complete success of a film, but that's because it only had to remind me of what it was like to be there, whereas I can't say that it succeeded for people who have never been to Baghdad or the Green Zone. Maybe it was too confusing and fast. But speaking as someone who lived there for a few years, it's the best movie I've seen yet depicting that time, that place.
The book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, does the job much better, factually and politically speaking. The film is supposedly based on this book, but I'd have to say only very loosely. The book spends a lot more time on the day to day life of the Green Zone's ruling class and their disastrously ignorant decision-making, whereas the movie is trying to condense everything that happened into a nice streamlined plot with a good guy and a bad guy. I feel like this really worked on a visceral level, but unfortunately left it open to the very valid criticism of "making it all up". We all know there was a great WMD lie, but it was probably not one single dickish neo-con general who hatched it up on his own, and I feel like the CIA was largely complicit in allowing the great lie to happen in the first place, even though the first major break in the ranks came from the CIA Chief Weapons Inspector David Kay when he announced that he'd seen no evidence of WMDs after being in theater for less than a year. If there were any good guys in the Green Zone attempting to expose the lie, (and the book does talk about a few of them) they were largely ignored, marginalized, and were not involved in many, if any, heroic action sequences. At least not that we're aware of. In fact, my favorite early whistle blower, Scott Ritter, was a UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq before the war who went on any news show that would have him in the run-up to the war and plead with America to listen to him because there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq! Unfortunately he dropped off the radar pretty quickly due to inappropriate sexual conduct on the internet, and that's what happens to people who dare to speak out. (Although apparently now there is some damning video of him out there, so perhaps it wasn't merely a politically motivated discrediting move after all. We'll see.)
In any case, If you're looking for a detailed description of the insanity of the Iraq Invasion and subsequent occupation, read the book. If you're looking for a good action flick with shaky-cam and more reality than a Bourne movie via a brief exposure to what it may have been like in the Green Zone in 2003, see the movie. It's very good.