It’s not often one gets to delve into politics in movie reviews. The reasons are pretty obvious; 1) most movies aren’t political in nature and 2) going to a movie reviewer for political slant would be like going to a dentist for your tax problems. Thankfully Syriana is that rare bird of a movie in which we’ll get to explore our leanings together, root canal drill in hand.
The first thing to know about Syriana is the theme is oil and the method is similar to Traffic. Traffic and Syriana were both written by Stephen Gaghan but even without that information it’s easy to draw parallels. Both use intertwined stories and quick cuts. Both films seek to throw you off balance, perhaps to help you learn. It might have helped the audience if they’d just called it OIL Traffic. As a final Stephen Gaghan note he’s penning the adaptation to Blink and I think his writing style is uniquely suited to a book about intuition. Look for more quick cuts and “what the hellÃ¢â‚¬Â¦” thoughts at theater near you.
The plot of Syriana involves four stories dealing with different facets of the oil industry. I found the most interesting to be the one played by Jeffrey Wright as an attorney representing two oil companies attempting a merger. The Justice department is all over the appearance of impropriety and Wright’s character must carefully weave the line between doing his job and not breaking the law. After seeing Wright in Broken Flowers and this I’m willing to call him the breakout actor of 2005. He must be so proud!
Matt Damon is the centerpiece of another story as a parent of two children in Geneva who also happens to work for a derivatives company. It’s hard to say exactly what he does based on the movie so let’s just all agree he makes money off the oil barons. George Clooney plays in the 3rd story as a C.I.A. agent both representing and getting played by the U.S. government. The final story involves two terrorist proteges and might well have been called “here’s why guys strap bombs to themselves.”
I promised politics at the outset and I’m now prepared to deliver. Again, keep in mind I’m no more qualified then your local Wal-Mart cashier. Syriana looks at the ugly truth behind America’s (and in fact the world’s) oil dependence. Anyone who doesn’t know it’s ugly; who thinks that oil comes from rainbow kisses will be quite shocked here to learn that third world despots control our economy. Even more shocking will be the knowledge that America could care less who leads oil rich countries so long as they are sympathetic to our oil needs. Psychotic human rights violator with a shady past? Don’t sweat it baby, just keep that gas coming. The problem is most people know this information, most know the U.S. installed the Shah of Iran, Saddam, the Taliban (all of whom know we’re officially “done” with) only to see it blow up in our faces. The idea that the United States interferes where it sees fit shouldn’t come as a shock, it’s been public policy for the past 200 years. I fear that in most cases Syriana will be preaching to the converted, IE people will to see a movie about the oil industry probably know the issues already.
That said what’s the alternative? Everyone who says “no blood for oil” would be singing a different tune if their heat didn’t work this winter. Syriana never looks at alternative energy sources (hey, just like our leaders) so it ends up feeling rather bleak and obvious. Much like Sin City the film revels in showing us the problem only. Unfortunately I don’t find that to be a genuine story arc. Syriana is interesting throughout but never adds up to enough to be great. I have a feeling that it won’t be more than a blip on the radar of our public consciousness, which is a shame. It would have been nice to have a movie that spurred dialogue on what has become America’s “see no evil, hear no evil” monster in the closet.
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