The new film "Green Zone" starring Matt Damen portrays the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And while the film's point of view is being debated, the credentials of some of its actors would seem beyond question. Allen Pizzey visited the cast on location in Morocco:
Whatever the polls may show, there are schools of thought that say support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is directly related to how much the public knows about what it is really like to be there.
"Green Zone" may help change the equation, because - apart from the main stars - the movie's principal actors are soldiers who have, as one put it, "done their time in the sand box." They're all Iraq veterans.
Corporal Sean Huze, who joined the Marines the day after 9/11, said as he was being made up, "You never get this much attention in the military."
He and other Iraq vets, some of whom were still in the military when they went on set, were cast because of the expertise and authenticity they provide simply by being what they were trained to be . . . soldiers.
Star Matt Damon found it somewhat daunting.
"In terms of doing kind of all of my scenes with, this is the most over-loaded film I've ever been in with people who are the real thing," he said. "It was definitely intimidating."
But not for former Marine Reserve Corporal Abdul Henderson.
"They gave us free rein with being able to prepare our personal gear and how we would have had it when we were overseas, so it feels real, looks real, smells real," Henderson said.
That kind of realism is a trademark of director Paul Greengrass: "Only people who've been there, only people who've served as soldiers there, only by using them I think can you really get to the, you know, the real sense of authenticity."
Sometimes it was almost too authentic.
Soldiers playing roles they actually lived through may make for great cinema, but it comes at a price that cannot be measured in box office terms.
Thirteen months in Iraq weren't easy for Specialist Ed Gluck to re-live.
"No, it's not fun," he told Pizzey. "The experience is fun but when you're here it's not fun. No. Not at all."
The scene takes over the psyche . . . and acting and reality blur.
"You remember that it's cinema but it's not, at the same time," said Gluck. "It's a sort of fantasy that's replicating a reality that all of us know. You find your heart racing. Your hands are trembling. It takes a lot out of you psychologically."
The film is based on soldiers who went into Iraq in 2003 to look for weapons of mass destruction . . . and didn't find them.
In one scene, during a military briefing Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon) questions the intel behind their search. "It's solid, good to go," he's told.
"There's a disconnect between what's in the packets and what we are seeing on the ground," says Damon's character. "There is a problem with the intelligence."
The soldier-actors insist the film is not anti-war.
"I think it's a movie about the truth," said Huze, " and I don't think there's anything more patriotic than finding the truth about why nearly 4,000 U.S. troops have been killed and tens of thousands of Iraqis."
The level of realism is so high that it actually blurs the line between information and entertainment, which is one reason why the soldiers who are helping to make it that way agreed to be in the movie in the first place.
"It may look bad, but it's an accurate representation of what we did over there, and the things that we experienced," said Cpl. Brian Siefkes.
Corporal Siefkes should know . . . he served on a team looking for WMD.
For him, going on location in Morocco was like stepping back in time.
"You walk down to the Medina where they have the big markets and everything and it's real crowded and you just, the nerves come right back and you just, you don't feel safe. It took about two or three days for a lot of us to get over that," he said.
For Damon, being around soldiers who both knew what they were doing and at the same time are learning to cope with what they went through helped him fit into his role.
"It's really a process of osmosis," Damon said. "It's like this osmotic process where you're surrounded by the real thing and it's, you just kind of fall into it, I think, a lot easier."
However grim, a learning experience.
Whether audiences choose to relive this particular chapter of recent history will be perhaps best be determined by this weekend's box office.
For more info:
"Green Zone" (Official Movie Web Site)