Based in part on the real-life experiences of journalist Wendell Steavenson during her time in Iraq, Philip Haas' dense, despairing political drama reflects the chaos and tragic incomprehensibility of the current "situation" in a country beset by an increasingly unpopular U.S. occupation and internecine battles between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. While not easy to watch, and at times even harder to follow, Haas' film is an important attempt to accurately capture the confusing reality of contemporary Iraq.
Seven months into her frontline coverage of the messy fallout from the American-led invasion of Iraq, U.S. journalist Anna Molyneux (Connie Nielsen) is no longer optimistic about the post-Saddam future. She returns to Samaara, a hotbed of Sunni insurgency, with her driver/translator Bashar (Omar Berdouni) to meet again with Rafeeq (Nasser Memarzia), a 15-year veteran of an Iranian POW camp whom many now regard as a local hero. Rafeeq is also disillusioned with the U.S. occupation, and his outspoken criticisms have earned him a place on the U.S. intelligence list of insurgents. Anna's lover, Dan (Damian Lewis), one of the many intelligence officers ensconced in the heavily guarded "Green Zone" in central Bagdhad, is still fighting to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis by providing them with medical supplies, and has been trying to convince his superiors to court Rafeeq as a potential source of intelligence, but to no avail. In their minds, Rafeeq is a terrorist who's been named by a number of Abu Ghraib detainees and would have been "detained" himself if it weren't for Dan's efforts on his behalf. Upon Anna's arrival, Rafeeq tells her that a 16-year-old local boy has been found drowned in the Tigris River. The boy's cousin claims they were heading home minutes before the 11 pm curfew, but were stopped on a bridge by a U.S. patrol and then thrown off by the American soldiers. His cousin, it turned out, didn't know how to swim. The incident has inflamed already virulent anti-American passions in Samaara, a city Dan's superiors regard as "lost" to the growing insurgency group led by Walid (Driss Roukh), a former Republican Guard whose mujahideen are largely responsible for the sharp rise in recent attacks. Unwilling to ally themselves with "insurgents" like Rafeeq, the Americans' only hope in the region may also prove to be the most unreliable: the corrupt Mayor Tahsin (Said Amadis), who provides intel to the Americans while pursuing his own agenda. This bubbling cauldron of shifting alliances, uncertain motives and suspicious truths reaches a flash point when Rafeeq's murdered body is dumped on his own doorstep. Convinced he was killed because she used him as a source and possibly her attempts to recruit him on Dan's behalf Anna, Bashar and handsome, Christian Iraqi photographer Zaid (Mido Hamada) travel deep into the dangerous Sunni Triangle in search of the truth, and into a situation from which she may never return.
It's never certain when during American's occupation of Iraq the film is set, but it's clear that Haas and Steavenson intended to make a film that, for better or worse, lacked the historical perspective of war films made years after "situations" have been resolved. The downside to employing such an immediate, journalistic-style approach to a fiction film is that one winds up sifting through a collection of confusing, often conflicting reports tied together by a dismal, Rumsfeldian wartime truth: The only thing that we know for certain is that nothing is certain. It's the kind of sentiment that easily leads to despair, but needs to be faced in order to formulate an effective future for Iraq. The complete absence of anything remotely resembling a sympathetic character among the U.S. military, however, may only make that despair run even deeper. (In English and Arabic, with English subtitles) leave a comment --Ken Fox