The Situation, Philip Haas’s deftly paced, well-written, and brilliantly infuriating Iraq War thriller is not only the strongest of recent geopolitical hotspot flicks but one that has been designed for maximal agitation. Based on a script by the Anglo-American journalist Wendell Steavenson, this gutsy attempt to dramatize the way Iraqis live now is an incitement to rage and despair—the most vivid critique of Bush’s War yet put on screen.
An independent production, The Situation was frugally shot (to excellent effect) in and around Rabat, Morocco, with a largely Arab cast and one mid-level inter national star: Connie Nielsen, who plays the American correspondent Anna. Nominally a romantic triangle—Anna is casually involved with a friendly intelligence officer yet increasingly drawn to her Iraqi photographer—the movie is as bluntly existential as its title. It’s structured as an interlocking series of mysteries inside one very large and intractable brain-twister. What in the world are we doing (or do we think we’re doing) in this incomprehensible landscape and how in the world are we ever going to get out?
Haas opens by restaging an actual incident that occurred in the mainly Sunni city of Samarra in early 2004: A group of American soldiers detained a pair of teenage Iraqis out after curfew and wound up throwing them into the Tigris, drowning one. Although the case, which Anna reports on, only intermittently surfaces in The Situation‘s narrative, its sink-or-swim horror sets the movie’s tone and provides an ongoing metaphor.
Iraq has been the subject of several key documentaries: Each in its way, The Control Room, Gunner Palace, and Iraq in Fragments are crucial to the representation of the war. The Situation is the first fictional film of note to treat the conflict, and as such, it is filled with echoes of Vietnam (and Vietnam-era) movies. Haas’s Baghdad certainly doesn’t look like Saigon but it has a sickeningly familiar feel. The Green Zone’s swimming pools and Chinese restaurants recall the lavish pseudo-America of Apocalypse Now. (Indeed, Steavenson’s knowingly noirish first-person reportage owes a bit to Michael Herr.)