Review: 'The Situation' proves lackluster 

Touted as the first fiction feature to address the U.S. occupation of Iraq, "The Situation" seriously examines the chaotic, violent thicket of disjointed interests and incongruous bedfellows that the war has produced, and it also offers up a romantic melodrama. The two approaches, unfortunately, don’t jibe, and neither proves individually compelling.

Having previously directed literary adaptations such as "Angels and Insects" and "Up at the Villa," director Philip Haas shifts gears with this thriller set in an occupied Iraq where horrors happen so often that each fades quickly into the next, both on the ground and in the brain. These include the fact-based tragedy that opens the film: the drowning death of an Iraqi teen, whom U.S. soldiers have pushed, along with a companion, into the Tigris.

American journalist Anna (Connie Nielsen) serves as a truth-seeking presence navigating a mire of biases and agendas as she investigates, first, the drowning and, then, a source’s assassination. Her probe leads her into perilous terrain filled with violent insurgents, thuggish police, a powerful sheik and endless unease. More intimately, it draws her to an Iraqi photographer named Zaid (Mido Hamada) and distances her from her CIA boyfriend, Dan (Damian Lewis).

The movie’s not dim. It presents a multifaceted picture of occupied Iraq as an explosive place where truths are constantly shifting and survival instinct is at the core of nearly everything.

But you don’t feel the urgency. There’s nothing here that documentary treatment ("Gunner Palace," "My Country, My Country," "Control Room") hasn’t tackled more grippingly.

Haas advances the action adeptly, but war drama isn’t his strength, and in terms of delivering affecting war-story grit with a handheld camera, he’s no Michael Winterbottom. Screenwriter Wendell Steavenson, a journalist who spent time in Iraq, displays insight into mindsets but little dramatic flair. The combination of a love triangle, a political backdrop and a taking-sides speech echoes "The Quiet American," but the romance here counteracts, rather than complements, the intrigue. The love story itself lacks sizzle.

Additionally, by thrusting Anna, played by an insufficiently deglamorized Nielsen, into life-threatening straits, and having both men with a romantic interest in her be her protectors, the film makes her a woman-in-danger cliche. Why not use her to underscore the immense risks war journalists take?

The title of course, refers to the gargantuan mess that exists under the occupation. Results notwithstanding, Haas and company deserve credit for earnestly tackling the issue.

The Situation **

Starring Connie Nielsen, Damian Lewis, Mido Hamada

Written by Wendell Steavenson

Directed by Philip Haas

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

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