Paul Greengrass must drink a lot of coffee. And I mean a lot of coffee.

In Bloody SundayUnited 93, and parts 2 & 3 of the Bourne Identity series, he’s already shown ad nauseam (literally, I’m sure, for some people) that he skipped film school on the day they taught slow, Kubrick-esque tracking shots.

If you’ve never watched a movie from inside a popcorn popper, Green Zone gives you that chance.

Fortunately, though, it works.

It’s already being called Bourne Goes to Baghdad (and there is some truth to the notion), but Green Zone is hugely entertaining all on its own. The screenplay by Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential, Mystic River) is first-rate, with a spot-on balance of action, suspense, and politics.

It’s 2003, and Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is leading his unit on the search of suspected WMD sites throughout Iraq. Problem is, when he gets to each of sites (dodging sniper bullets all the while) there’s nothing there.

Then, when Miller questions the original intel that prompted the wild-goose-chases, all hell begins to break loose. Lines are drawn, loyalties are questioned, and somehow the CIA starts looking like the good guys. (When’s the last time that happened in a movie?)

Damon, essentially resurrecting Jason Bourne (without the amnesia), is excellent. He expertly straddles the line between ‘too calm’ and ‘too angry’ and avoid portraying Miller as a loose cannon– which may very well have been several actors’ first inclination with the role.

Greg Kinnear does ‘slimeball’ really well (though it will be odd to turn around in just two weeks and see him play cuddly dad in The Last Song), and Brendan Gleeson does a better-than-average job both in shedding his British accent and in playing the role of Miller’s CIA contact.

In the end, though, this is Greengrass’ movie to lose… and he doesn’t. It’s a gripping powerhouse almost on par with The Hurt Locker and Black Hawk Down for war realism. It’s visually stunning (you get used to the camera work) and very tightly edited. The plot is surprisingly easy to wrap your head around (though depending on your political leanings, you’ll either be extremely frustrated or extremely disgusted at the subject matter), and had I not known better, I’d have sworn it was actually filmed in Baghdad, not Spain and Morocco.

Sure, one of these days Greengrass may get pulled over for excessive failure to use a tripod, but as long as he keeps putting out movies like Green Zone, I’ll keep letting him off with a warning.

4.5/5 stars