The Situation



This review was written for the festival review of  "The Situation."

PALM SPRINGS -- Part war drama, part political thriller, part romance -- and wholly uninvolving -- Philip Haas' "The Situation" might be among the first American features out of the gate to address the war in Iraq (as played by Morocco), but in the absence of a sufficient historical perspective, a far greater dramatic dynamic was required than what passes for international intrigue in this talky, stilted production.

The Shadow Distribution release was screened as part of the World Cinema Now section of this year's Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Connie Nielsen plays an American journalist struggling to find fresh perspectives in her coverage of day-to-day life in Iraq, and an opportunity presents itself after a group of American soldiers in Samarra throw two curfew-violating Iraqi teens off a bridge, leading to the drowning death of one of them.

The aftermath sets off yet another chain reaction of violence involving corrupt Iraqi police officials and insurgents, taking Nielsen's Anna deep into the danger zone, at least when she is not embedded in a little triangular romantic intrigue between an out-of-his-depth American intelligence official (Damien Lewis) and an intrepid Iraqi photographer (Mido Hamada).

Haas, who worked from adaptations of novels by W. Somerset Maugham ("Up at the Villa"), Paul Auster ("The Music of Chance") and A.S. Byatt ("Angels and Insects") and was presumably going for a Graham Greene "Quiet American" vibe here, is ill-served by journalist Wendell Steavenson's first screenplay, based upon her experiences living and working in the war-torn country.

While Steavenson's script and Haas' direction convey a necessary sense of urgency and confusion, both falter when it comes to creating compelling characters or building dramatic tension.

Instead, there are an awful lot of dull, purposeful conversations rudely interrupted by the blast of insurgent bombs or mortar fire that never seems to be as unsettling as they are obviously intended.

Nielsen's tentative performance is another problem. Neither she nor the filmmakers let the audience in on the motivating forces or underlying passion that would propel her character directly into the line of fire.

Lewis, who was so convincingly raw in 2005's "Keane," also gets a bit lost here as the misguided CIA man. Only Hamada makes a real impact as the charismatic photographer who opens Nielsen's eyes to the various complexities that are deeply entwined in the ongoing chaos.

Shadow Distribution
Director: Philip Haas
Screenwriter: Wendell Steavenson
Producers: Liaquet Ahamed, Michael Sternberg, Neda Armian
Director of photography: Sean Bobbit
Editor: Curtiss Clayton
Costume designer: Anita Yavich
Music: Jeff Beal
Anna: Connie Nielsen
Dan: Damien Lewis
Zaid: Mido Hamada
Colonel Carrick: John Slattery
Major Hanks: Tom McCarthy
Duraid: Muhmoud El Lozy
Running time -- 106 minutes
No MPAA rating