Beyond the Multiplex
by Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com, February 1, 2007
A compelling Iraq war thriller that will entertain and upset you.
“There’s no truth, you know,” a CIA official tells an idealistic young colleague in “The Situation,” the compelling new Iraq war thriller from veteran indie director Philip Haas. “There are no bad guys and there are no good guys. It’s not gray, either … There’s no truth! It’s lost in the fourth dimension of time.”
Those lines, and the extraordinary monologue by Dan Murphy (played by Damian Lewis) from which they come, express the ambiguity at the heart of “The Situation,” an uneven but impressively ambitious picture that depicts the contemporary Iraq conflict as an existential and moral heart of darkness. Made rapidly and on the cheap (in Morocco), and written by Wendell Steavenson, a journalist who has reported from Iraq, “The Situation” claims the prize of being the first American narrative feature to address the war directly. (Perhaps 20 percent of Irwin Winkler’s “Home of the Brave” is set in Iraq, but that film is principally about soldiers’ difficulties on coming home.)
Best known for his 1995 adaptation of A.S. Byatt’s “Angels & Insects,” Haas here imagines Iraq as the sun-bleached setting for an especially bleak film noir, in which love is treacherous, good intentions lead you-know-where and the line between good and evil is always shifting. For the first few minutes of “The Situation,” you may worry that you’re about to see a didactic fable about evil Americans oppressing virtuous Iraqis, but Haas and Steavenson’s scenario is nowhere near that simple.
It’s true that in the film’s opening scene some United States soldiers throw two Iraqi teenagers off a bridge, out of sheer cruelty and cussedness, but given what we now know about Abu Ghraib and the various reported civilian massacres, that doesn’t seem exceptional. Furthermore, there are Iraqis in the film, such as the shadowy local chieftain Sheik Tahsin (Saïd Amadis) and the ruthless insurgent leader Walid (Driss Roukh), who make the boorish, racist Americans look like Boy Scouts.
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