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Americans in Iraq, insurgency rising, truth illusive. U.S. soldiers in Samarra throw boys off a bridge; one drowns. An American reporter and her Iraqi photographer pursue the story. Samarra's mayor aids the U.S. and fears the rising power of an ex-Republican Guard. The mayor uses a Baathist ex-diplomat to sell out his rival. The diplomat wants a post abroad, so he trades "intel" for safe passage. The reporter's lover, a CIA man in Baghdad, pushes for progress on public works in Sumarra; he promotes cooperation with Rafeeq, an intellectual whom other Americans call an insurgent. Rafeeq is in danger. All roads lead to the village of Al Tawr. War at its most opaque: Iraqis call it "the situation." Written by
Before I tear into this flaws of this film, I must say that the overall story is one that should be heard. The events that take place are very accurate reflections of "the situation" in Iraq, and the dialog spoken accurate reflections of the thoughts and feelings of those impacted by it. It is a movie that is worth seeing for anyone who wants a fairly accurate portrayal of the country and how it has been impacted by the war.
However, numerous aspects of the production take away from the experience.
1. Although it shouldn't impact the experience of the Western audience, one key flaw in this film is the Arabic language. The Arab actors, mostly Moroccan, don't speak in their native Arabic dialect but use fusha, or Modern Standard Arabic. The level of fluency in MSA varies from actor to actor, some of them speaking it smoothly and others butchering it. In many cases it is clear the actors are not at ease in the language. I feel if the director was not aiming at authenticity (by having their actors learn Iraqi Arabic), they should have just let the actors speak in their native tongue rather than MSA, which feels forced.
2. Closely related, a lot of the minor Arab roles were just terribly acted, the actors and actresses largely devoid of emotion or expression and monotone in their dialog. Many of them really appear to just be reciting lines, not acting. Iraqis (and other Arabs of the region) are very expressive when they speak, both in their facial expressions and in their gestures. Many of the smaller characters seemed entirely one-dimensional in that regard. Having lived in the region for a few years, many of the actors (extras mostly) were unconvincing.
3. The romantic subplot seemed convoluted and was not very convincing. It distracted from more important themes in the film.
4. Even in 2003 when this movie takes place (before the violence peaked), a tall, blonde American woman with no Arabic language skills would not be able to so easily travel around Iraq independently with only her scrawny teenage translator, especially in such conservative areas as Samarra. My wife is Iraqi and found this aspect of the film particularly unfeasible.
5. The naive right-wing ideologue character is a bit too much like a stereotypical characterture. Again, one dimensional and unconvincing.
6. Like many movies filmed in Morocco that are supposed to take place in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, there are many subtleties that are inaccurate, from the architecture to the types of cars driven, and this film doesn't really give me the feeling of being in Iraq. For example, I don't recall seeing a single portrait or statue of Saddam in the entire film. Green Zone (which, while primarily shot in Morocco, also incorporates many sequences shot in Iraq) and the Battle of Haditha (shot in Jordan) depict the subtleties of Iraq much better. The Hurt Locker also does a decent job of this, as does Three Kings.
I suppose those are my main complaints, but they are mostly technical and related to the film-making, not the story which was generally well-written.
Still, I'd recommend Green Zone and Battle of Haditha over this.
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