People will probably run to The Runaways, the story of the pioneering seventies girl group, to see Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett earn a bad reputation she doesn’t give a damn about and little Dakota Fanning as 15-year-old Cherie Currie strut around the stage in skimpy outfits ch-ch-chanting that she’s a ch-ch-cherry bomb and join Stewart in some heavy Sapphic smooching. In patches it’s agreeably lurid, but it’s otherwise ho-hum. Although Jett is the co–executive producer and Stewart the star, the Jett character is mostly a bystander: She stands by as “rock impresario” Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) assembles the pubescent girl band (as Malcolm McLaren assembled the Sex Pistols), then stands by some more as Currie, the group’s blonde-bombshell mascot, falls apart from the drugs and sex and Fowley abuse. (The film is based on Currie’s slim autobiography, published little more than a decade after the Runaways imploded.) As onetime member Victory Tischler-Blue’s documentary Edgeplay makes clear, the vibe among the bandmates was never good, and since the music itself is secondary, there’s not a lot to this story. The film is all externals. Shannon looks scary and stops the show with his rants, but he’s too endearingly damaged, too nice, to convey the real Fowley’s otherworldly creepiness. It’s Fanning’s movie: You can taste the ex–child actor’s relish for playing “jailbait.” But can she be ogled in good conscience? The taste is sweet and sour.
When you study the subjects’ faces in policy wonk Charles Ferguson’s No End in Sight, a sober 2007 documentary about the first year of the Iraq occupation, you see not anger but bewilderment: How could the Pentagon, which allegedly “fixed the intel around the policy,” get it so wrong? Were they so arrogant, so obtuse, that they couldn’t foresee the deadly forces they were about to unleash? “Hell, yes!” avers Paul Greengrass’s tumultuous conspiracy thriller Green Zone, which is like No End in Sight with gun battles and cliff-hangers: a boffo anti-Bush-administration answer to TV’s hawkish 24.
Matt Damon plays Army chief warrant officer Roy Miller, whose team of (heavily armed) inspectors moves from site to site searching for WMDs, taking casualties, and coming up with doughnut holes. Pissed off, he accosts an administration tool (Greg Kinnear—is he meant to be Paul Bremer? Doug Feith?) who insists that the intel is dandy and prepares for the ultimate coup: outlawing Saddam’s Baath Party and disbanding the Iraqi military. So Miller goes rogue and joins forces with a CIA vet (Brendan Gleeson) who sees Iraq exploding into civil war if the Baathists are banished. You might charge Brian Helgeland’s script (inspired by Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s nonfiction account, Imperial Life in the Emerald City) with twenty-twenty hindsight, except the book and doc prove that back in 2003 those warnings were expressed—and suppressed. And even the foresight should’ve been twenty-twenty: A 6-year-old with glaucoma couldn’t have missed the coming conflagration. Green Zone is a slam-bam piece of muckraking and, to my mind, dead-on in its depiction of a traumatized Iraqi populace, a criminally misused American military, and a U.S.-backed charlatan (Ahmed Chalabi by another name) who smugly believes he can ease into leadership. But it’s also rather tawdry. The climax is as ludicrous as any Jack Bauer adventure, and Greengrass is always on shaky ground. Literally. As in his Bourne movies, his handheld camera shimmies and swerves, using battlefield vérité to drive home the faux realism. In the Greengrass zone, there’s no time or space for the quiet revelation, the offhand but crystalline detail that transcends the melodramatic agenda. It’s only the adrenaline-inducing techniques that conceal the lack of imagination.
And it’s only Damon’s credible, low-key acting that keeps the final twist involving a Baathist general and a reporter (Amy Ryan) clearly modeled on the New York Times’ Judith Miller (she’s identified as from The Wall Street Journal) from seeming as preposterous as it is. Ryan’s Lawrie Dayne is rattled at the thought that she’d been fooled by a Pentagon-staged farce involving a top-secret informant—a marked contrast to the real Miller, who defended her credulous reporting and loved her some Chalabi. A Hollywood touch: She’s pleased at the thought of Roy Miller spilling the beans instead of monomaniacally asserting—like so many others in those dark years—that the catastrophic course must be stayed. Even Greengrass can’t do justice to the perfidy of everyone involved.