A dire and depressing "Situation”

March 5, 2007, midnight | By Amanda Pollak | 12 years, 9 months ago

Iraq drama is politically straightforward but technically nuanced

"The Situation" has it all – tragedy, romance, action, mystery, suspense and, in the not-so-traditional-but-simply-because-it's-Iraq way, horror.

Photo: Connie Nielsen plays a journalist determined to find justice — and a story — in modern-day Iraq.

Two seemingly every-day Iraqi deaths drive the movie. The first victim is a sixteen-year-old who was pushed off a bridge by soldiers for violating curfew
in the opening sequence, based on a actual event. The second is Rafeeq, a key source and friend of Anna, an American journalist and the protagonist. Everybody describes Rafeeq as a good man who simply wants peace. The American intelligence agents, however, label him a terrorist.

In "The Situation," the army, in fact, labels most Iraqis who get in their way, generally by accident, as terrorists. In one of the most disturbing scenes of the film, Dan (Damien Lewis) interrogates Zaid (Mido Hamada), Anna's trusted and loyal companion, as to Anna's whereabouts. Zaid yells back, frustrated to be called a terrorist, only to be greeted with racial slurs.

The film follows Anna's quest to learn the circumstances of her friend's brutal death –– a fairly common idea as plots go. Anna is ultimately successful, but director Philip Haas (Angels and Insects) does not allow the movie to turn into the classic suspense-mystery film where all problems are solved along with the mystery. It is Iraq, so both the ending, made more than a little bittersweet, and every twist and turn, are greeted with more bloodshed. Though well-executed, the film is neither pleasant nor inspiring. Rather, it is political commentary at its best, and most depressing.

Connie Nielsen, the only big name in the film, is brilliant as Anna. Her chemistry with both Hamada and Lewis is of the same caliber. All three principles bring intensity, passion and clear political opinions to their roles. After Rafeeq's death, Anna bemoans, "It's not a story! It happens here every day!" She is a woman battered by "the situation" and the constancy of its bloody contents.

Dan later tries to calm her, saying "It's just Iraq. Don't let it get to you." With this simple line, he conveys one of the worst problems with "the situation." It's constant. People always murder each other and chaos always reigns in the war-torn nation. But, for Anna and the audience, not "letting it get to you" is not an option. In this movie, Iraq gets to you, close and personal, bringing with it an intense and simultaneous sense of both urgency and hopelessness.

The film is based on Haas's experiences as a journalist in Iraq and, sadly, feels very real. Iraq is pure chaos. The Iraqis and Americans fight because they're Iraqis and Americans, often without bothering to discover that they have the same goal: in this case, Anna's safety, and, in the bigger picture, at least for most of the Iraqis and Americans, the well-being of Iraq and its people. Anna and her driver sit still in a "normal" traffic jam the length of the Bay Bridge because an ordinary citizen "feels responsible" for bombing that part of the highway. And this is based on 2004 – back when things were "better" in Iraq. While the music is excellent, gunfire is the only constant background noise – and perhaps the most appropriate.

It is a film of both vibrance and gunfire. The music is fitting – simple and Middle Eastern. It gives appropriate undertones to the romantic, suspenseful, horrific and tragic elements of the plot. Bright bursts of cymbals give brief relief to the viewer from the constant sounds of sorrow and suspenseful stretches of silence.

The images are equally gripping, and portray a nation cruelly torn apart, but not without glimpses of physical beauty. Bright headscarfs and flowers contrast sharply with a bleak desert-and-explosion-filled landscape, just as random acts of kindness do with the ruthless acts of war which envelope the entire situation. The brightest colors of the film, however, remain in a portrait of the American commander-in-chief. Deep blue and bright red lie surround a gleeful President looking out from behind the desk of Dan's seemingly clueless military superior.

In this war-torn nation, there are few bad guys – just confused individuals trying to cope with their surroundings. The Americans with whom Dan works, perhaps the most confused of all try to follow orders and seem vaguely intelligent. Wesley, Dan's colleague calls Dan's idea of having Rafeeq build a hospital ridiculous, but is still learning the difference between Sunni and Shi'ite. "Next time," his teacher tells him, you'll learn that there are also Christians. Meanwhile, the Sunni insurgents, depicted in the US as villainous, are just as confused and well-meaning.

Bush's grinning, and ultimately ridiculous, portrait looms over the entire movie. As Dan and his boss sternly discuss and debate the situation, a grinning Bush, almost a caricature of himself, grins on. It's just about the only smile in the movie.

"The Situation" (106 minutes, unrated) is playing at the Avalon Theatre and E street Cinema.

Amanda Pollak. More »

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