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Review: The Situation

Intertwined storylines vainly strive to convey the complexities of the Iraq War in Philip Haas’s The Situation.

The Situation
Photo: Shadow Distribution

Intertwined storylines vainly strive to convey the complexities of the Iraq War in Philip Haas’s The Situation, a scattershot drama that, as written by journalist Wendell Steavenson from her own on-the-ground experiences, tackles its topical subject with lurching focus and plenty of from-the-mouths-of-mouthpieces didacticism. First-time screenwriter Steavenson covers the titular situation from myriad viewpoints, from local militiamen and community leaders to journalists, American military officials, and grieving families, with the overriding aim being to elucidate how competing factions, allegiances, and interests have led to a quagmire in which battle lines are blurred to the point of obscurity. The film has a clear idea of how “truth” is an ever-shifting concept in a country as anarchic as Iraq, but in addressing such a turbulent state of affairs, Haas and Steavenson too often resort to two-dimensional characterizations, their story’s players designed to represent—and then overtly articulate via clunky exposition—various perspectives on the conflict. Such edification is unfortunately married to a central love triangle shared by disenchanted American journalist Anna (Connie Nielsen), her “liberal” American intelligence official boyfriend Dan (Damian Lewis), and a realist Iraqi photographer Zaid (Mido Hamada), a romantic tangle so lacking in any electricity that it sabotages the otherwise-stirring sense of urgency created by Haas’s vigorous direction. Anna is the embodiment of the film’s exhausted, despondent attitude toward Iraq. Yet as with the narrative’s initial stimulus—involving an Iraq teen who drowned in a Samarra river after being thrown off a bridge by American soldiers—she’s a sketchily conceived creation, with the script eventually too distracted by its cast of strange bedfellows (and their correlations) to give its protagonist a profound human dimension or to evocatively express the means by which American and Iraqi self-interest and apathy sabotages opportunities to create a lasting, stable environment. The Situation’s examination of the chaos-creating compromises paralyzing Iraq’s political and infrastructural development marks it as a serious attempt to plumb the war’s multifaceted issues. But like Dan’s efforts to set up a hospital in Samarra, it’s an attempt that’s ultimately noble in intention but less than successful in execution.

Cast: Connie Nielsen, Damian Lewis, Mido Hamada, John Slattery, Tom McCarthy, Mahmoud El Lozy, Saïd Amadis, Nasser Memarzia, Omar Berdouni, Driss Roukh Director: Philip Haas Screenwriter: Wendell Steavenson Distributor: Shadow Distribution Running Time: 106 min Rating: NR Year: 2006 Buy: Video

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