Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Situation

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The Iraq war drama The Situation has a complicated story, but there's got to be a better way to tell it than having people walk into a room and say, "This is who I am, this is what's going on, and this is how I feel about it." The Situation splits time between the "green zone" in Baghdad, where military officials make deals with diplomats by hotel pools, and the "red zone" in Samarra, where the U.S. army is under fire for the death of a young boy. Connie Nielsen plays a journalist investigating the story over the objections of her boyfriend Damian Lewis, an American intelligence officer. At the same time, Nielsen has struck up a friendship—quickly becoming an affair—with Mido Hamada, a Christian Iraqi photographer whose work has been widely published. How do we know Hamada's doing so well? His editor says, "I've been meaning to tell you… You got us 24 front pages worldwide."

The Situation is the first screenplay from war correspondent Wendell Steavenson, who can't seem to figure out how to convey—in actions, not words—the moral complexity of the Middle East, and the folly of trying to reduce it to factions. At times, the movie plays like one long monologue, spread between a dozen characters. And its feeble attempt at a romantic triangle leads nowhere, except to unintentionally campy scenes of Nielsen and Lewis grinding away while the sound of gunfire echoes in the streets. Steavenson doesn't get much help from director Philip Haas, who's helmed such distinguished films as The Music Of Chance and Angels And Insects, but here reverts to 21st-century war-movie clichés: handheld cameras, a washed-out color scheme, and generically exotic music.

The Situation finally starts to come alive toward the end, when one of Nielsen's sources kidnaps her and Lewis and Hamada have to join forces to find her, in spite of their mutual distrust. It's a rare moment when the story makes the point, not the speeches. But this comes after an hour-plus of people sitting around tables dropping conversation-starters like, "Did you support the war?" During one dinner party, an Iraqi matriarch sighs, "The situation is all anybody talks about." Boy, do they ever.