Green Zone, Paul Greengrass, 114 mins, (15)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Niels Arden Oplev, 153 mins, (18)

Weapons of mass distortion bludgeon any subtlety in Damon's Iraq yarn

One aspect of The Hurt Locker which set it apart from Hollywood's other Iraq war thrillers is that it didn't take a political stance: it showed what the US military was (and is) doing, but it never got on to the issue of why.

Paul Greengrass's Green Zone is the exact opposite. Set in Baghdad in 2003, the question it asks is why no weapons of mass destruction were found there, despite "solid intelligence" that every corner shop was packed to the rafters with nuclear warheads. But its answer to that question is much too simple.

The film's hero, Matt Damon, is a saintly soldier who will go rogue without a moment's pause in order to uncover the truth. (In Greengrass's films, no one ever has a moment's pause.) The villain is an arrogant bureaucrat, Greg Kinnear, who knew all along that there were no WMD, and who will assassinate anybody who might prove otherwise. And in case you're still unsure of what to think, Brendan Gleeson's all-knowing, all-seeing CIA agent keeps telling everyone who will listen (ie, no one except Damon) that imposing democracy on Iraq will be more difficult than Kinnear thinks. However heartily you might agree with him, the script's told-you-so sermonising is hard to stomach.

Greengrass and Damon made the last two Bourne movies together, and Green Zone's alleyway chases have enough of Bourne's helter-skelter energy to make it worth seeing. But the black-and-white morality that was appropriate to an all-out action movie is trickier in a film about such a weighty issue. First, because Green Zone comes across as a lecture, with mouthpieces instead of characters; and second, because you keep wondering whether the story has any basis in reality. In short, a film which castigates its villains for distorting the truth to make a point should have been a bit more careful not to do the same.

Stieg Larsson's trilogy of Millennium crime novels has been a publishing sensation in Sweden and around Europe, and film adaptations of all three books have already been hits in Scandinavia. The first of these to reach Britain is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

What's unusual about the film is that it has two very different heroes who don't meet until halfway through the two-and-a-half-hour running time. One of them is a middle-aged campaigning journalist (Michael Nyqvist) who's just been sentenced to six months in jail for writing a libellous article. The second is the titular tattooed lady (Noomi Rapace), a leather-clad, 24-year-old computer hacker with a photographic memory and a faceful of piercings.

The journalist, who has a few months' grace before he's imprisoned, is hired by a wealthy industrialist to look into the disappearance of a niece 40 years earlier. The hacker, meanwhile, has a storyline of her own, culminating in an extremely nasty rape scene. As a set-up, it's far more intriguing than that of the average thriller, so it's a tad disappointing that the eventual partners' sleuthing boils down to some not very cinematic browsing through newspaper archives before they find a solution which is just one twist away from Seven, Silence of the Lambs and all the other serial killer films of the 1990s.

It also turns out that the lengthy sequences establishing the characters aren't especially relevant, so in hindsight the rape scene seems even more dubious than it did at the time. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo captivates for two and a half hours, and then leaves you feeling that two hours would have been enough.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor in I Love You Phillip Morris, a rom-com with a difference

Also Showing: 14/03/2010

The Ape (81 mins)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo belongs to a new wave of Swedish crime fiction which digs out the rot from under the country's permafrost. For my money, a bolder example is The Ape an urgent indie drama which races through a day in the life of an ordinary man. For most of the film we don't know why he's so anxious, or why he's buying power tools and rubbish sacks, but we have our suspicions.

Hachiko: A Dog's Story (93 mins, U)

Any dog-lovers who were overstimulated by the thrills and spills of Marley & Me will be relieved to learn that in Hachiko, Lasse Hallstrom's jaw-slackening ode to sub-Greyfriars Bobby canine loyalty, almost nothing happens at all. Richard Gere is as expressionless as his four-legged co-star.

The Kreutzer Sonata (99 mins, 18)

Tolstoy's risqué short story has been relocated to Beverly Hills, where Danny Huston's charity manager suspects that his wife (Elisabeth Röhm) is having an affair with a violinist. Shot on digital video, for very little money, the improvised chats and intimate sex scenes don't fit well with the copious and pompous 19th-century-style narration.

Under Great White Northern Lights (90 mins)

Whether or not you're a fan of the White Stripes' raucous punk-blues, Jack White is erudite, courteous and a charming devil. And his chemistry with the taciturn Meg White – his ex-wife, although they profess to be siblings – is quite fascinating. This tour documentary sees the colour-co-ordinated duo travel by private jet around Canada, playing free daytime shows in boats, buses and bowling alleys (where Jack bowls mid-song), before their official gigs in the evenings. The DVD and live CD are out tomorrow.

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