Starring Connie Nielsen, Damian Lewis, and Mido Hamada. Unrated. Opens Monday, May 28, at the Vancity Theatre
What's happening in Iraq these days is so complicated, so literally explosive, that the participants depicted here routinely refer to it simply as "the situation". Hence the title of this rare political drama in which the politics tend to sustain more interest than does the drama.
Gladiator's Connie Nielsen—standing in for journalist Wendell Steavenson, a novice screenwriter—plays Anna Molyneux, a U.S. reporter maintaining her independence about a year after her country's disastrous invasion of Iraq. If anything, life in and out of Baghdad's fabled Green Zone—where Americans huddle at Taco Bell and listen to bad rock while swimming in Saddam's favourite pools—is far more chaotic and dangerous now. But it was crazy enough early in that the unravelling still took almost everyone by surprise.
The major players here include: Dan (Damian Lewis), Anna's sometime lover and a CIA agent who alternates between resigned cynicism and a genuine belief in winning; his younger colleague, Wesley (Shaun Evans), a conservative party functionary—you can tell by his absurd bow tie—who believes in "democracy by force"; and Zaid (Mido Hamada), an Iraqi photographer increasingly suspected by Americans for his access to the "terrorists".
Also in the mix are the mayor of Samara (Saí¯d Amadis), a corrupt and canny warlord; a former Republican Guard officer (Driss Roukhe) now turned insurgent; a pro-western doctor (Nasser Memarzia) whose sympathies are rapidly drifting away from Washington; and an older Baathist diplomat (Mahmoud El Lozy) looking to swap information for a job in the new government—preferably a job that takes him far away from Iraq.
There are more Arabic-speaking characters than Americans here (who are, significantly, largely played by non-Yanks), and that's good, because their personalities are far more interesting than the bland triangular tug of war that gradually develops between Dan, Anna, and Zaid. To her credit, the screenwriter doesn't try to turn her alter ego into a heroine. But, to quote a great man in wartime, the problems of these little people really don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. (Some of those who inspired the characters show up in the film, convincingly shot, mostly with handheld cameras, in rural Morocco.)
Fortunately, what's going on in general, with all its internecine implications, is ably captured by director Philip Haas, better known for stylized literary fare such as Up at the Villa and Angels and Insects. The Situation, it turns out, is a bit of a mess. But it contains some useful lessons for those—unlike the people in charge–who are actually interested in learning.