Iraq war comes to theaters; it's not necessarily a good thing

Posted: March 30, 2007

The Situation begins with two Iraqi boys' being stopped on a bridge, searched by U.S. soldiers. It's past curfew, and everyone's jumpy - the Americans and the kids.

Then, the boys are tossed into the river. One of them drowns.

Shot with hand-held digital cameras (in Morocco, doubling for Baghdad and environs), director Philip Haas' take on the Iraqi conflict is among the first of what promises to be a mini-slew of features to address the war, which began with the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 and is now in its fifth year.

With a title that refers back to that opening scene and its subsequent coverup - but also to the larger "situation" of an occupying Western force in a country torn by civil strife and sectarian violence - Haas' film is a frustrating exercise.

At its center is Anna, an American journalist (a blond, burqa-cloaked Connie Nielsen), who has contacts among moderate Iraqis and has a romance going with an earnest CIA operative (Damian Lewis). He's actually got some good ideas about establishing links with the locals, fostering cooperation, coordinating public works. But the way his colleagues and superiors view him, he may as well be a traitor.

And then there's Anna's dashing Iraqi photographer, Zaid (Mido Hamada). The reporter and her shooter find themselves ducking gunfire, dodging IEDs, and before long they find themselves in each other's arms. What's an intrepid news mag gal to do?

The Situation deserves credit for not trying to reduce the events in Iraq to facile equations. There is corruption and cynicism on all sides: the U.S. diplomats and military, the Sunni leaders, the thugs in cop uniforms, the local powerbrokers.

But as Anna moves through the chaos and violence, her predicament - and her love life - is obscured by larger, messier, deadlier dramas. The Situation is smart enough not to get simplistic, but not smart enough to keep the narrative from imploding.

The Situation **1/2 (out of four stars)

Written by Wendell Steavenson, directed by Philip Haas. With Connie Nielsen, Damian Lewis and Mido Hamada. Distributed by Shadow Distribution.

Running time: 1 hour, 46 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (violence, profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz Five and Ritz Sixteen/NJ

Contact movie critic Steven Rea

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