The Situation

Last year, United 93 and World Trade Center had people buzzing about whether it was too soon to put out 9/11-themed films. Appropriately arriving nearly one year later, Philip Haas new film about the war in Iraq raises the same question. While the two films on 9/11, particularly “United 93,” met with positive critical reception, the arrival of The Situation seems premature. But political sensitivity has nothing to do with it this time–the film simply feels like a series of misfires and blown opportunities.

American journalist Anna (Connie Nielsen) is in Samarra investigating the death of Rafeeq (Nasser Memarzia), a prominent community figure whom she had recently profiled. Insurgence leader Walid (Driss Roukh) had been upset about Rafeeqs dealings with Americans like Anna. The Americans suspected that Rafeeq was a terrorist due to his association with Walid. To complicate things further, an Iraqi policemans marriage proposal to Rafeeqs daughter Noor (Cherine Amar) met with her fathers disapproval and interference. Meanwhile Anna is also juggling two romantic relationships, respectively with American Intelligence officer Dan (Damian Lewis) and Iraqi freelance photographer Zaid (Mido Hamada).

There are no bad guys and there are no good guys. Its not grey, either, Dan says. Its just the truth shifts according to each person you talk to. That would have been a nice theme for the film, but The Situation never manages to achieve half of that moral complexity or ambiguity. With its16 speaking parts, one third of the dialogue in Arabic, and an interwoven story with characters from drastically different backgrounds, the movie quickly pales by comparison to such intricate international political films as Syriana and Babel.

The main problem of The Situation is the amateurish screenplay by journalist Wendell Steavenson. The story follows the perspective of Anna, her surrogate/alter ego, whose love triangle seems trivial and tedious. The gratuitous sex scene involving Nielsen and Lewis accompanied by machine gun and bomb noises is borderline laughable.

Also, as viewers, we arent that invested in characters getting brutalized or murdered either. Scenes in the film, some taking place in restaurants and sidewalk cafes, are filled with wall-to-wall dialogue. The wooden delivery by the non-English speaking cast also makes everything sound like conversational exercises from an ESL class. All these problems do little to establish the film's main theme, the urgency of the war.

No element really manages to bail out the screenplay. What journalist in her right mind would walk around Iraq in a sexy summer dress as Nielsen does The sound is badly mixed, with an intrusive score that makes the film sound like a TV movie. Haas also doesnt seem like the right man for the job. The Situation might have been more poignant and effective id directed by someone like Brit Michael Winterbottom, who has impressively delved into this territory before with more focused, well-executed films like Welcome to Sarajevo, In This World and The Road to Guantanamo.

The Situation has some interesting tidbits, but not much to sustain a moment, let alone the entire film. Haas has said that he was compelled to put the film together quickly while the Iraq war is still going on. But the ideas and messages he's attempting to make have been made more eloquently and convincingly in other works. In theme, “The Situation” is timely and relevant, but after watching the films it becomes forgettable. The movie leaves the impression that Haas should have waited a while, for a couple of rewrites at the very least, before proceeding with his honorable project.

Reviewed by Martin Tsao