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
at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stevenrea.