Movie Review: Syriana: A Film By Stephan Gaghan. A Political Thriller. Rated B+.
It Is Meant to Challenge And Confront Popular Conceptions About The U.S. Role In The Mid East.
This film is a political thriller written and directed by Steven Gahan who also wrote Traffic. The film is made in the Robert Altman/Quentin Tarentino style of multiple but ultimately related story lines with multiple characters. However it parts company with these directors because it is made almost in a semi documentary style. Perhaps it could be called a docu-drama if it was not a work of fiction based loosely on a non-fiction book by a former CIA agent, Robert Baer. This is also a film where the story is paramount and not just a star vehicle for George Clooney, Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer or Amanda Peet.
George Clooney is a CIA agent who becomes politically expendable by the agency when it becomes public that he was trying to kill the first son, played by Alexander Siddig, of an Emir of an oil rich country so his second more pliable son (friendly to the U.S. and Connex-Killen Oil Co.) could become Emir.
Clooney realizes he has been unwittingly been an instrument of big business and in the case of the film big oil (Connex-Killen) during his CIA career in the Mid-East and seeks to rectify his actions in relation to the Emir’s first son.
This fact is almost unbelievable and the audience’s suspended disbelief is tested. How an CIA field expert could not know the ultimate goals of his job after many years as a field agent in the Mid-East is not reasonable to ask the audience to accept. However while this weakens the story it does not seriously prevent the story from going forward. Perhaps if the Clooney character was more fully developed this weakness could have been overcome. However this is a common problem of all ensemble works, not enough time to develop characters and how they relate to the plot.
Other story lines include Matt Damon who is an economic advisor to the eldest of the two sons of the aging Emir who wishes to retire.
Chris Cooper, Christopher Plummer and Jeffrey Wright are an oilman and his lawyers seeking to maintain the company’s hegemony over its oil and gas interests in the Persian Gulf and in Tajikistan in the face of Chinese competition and their manipulation of Justice Department scrutiny of their business deals with foreigners.
Another story line is about two Pakistani oil workers who are laid off when Connex-Killen loses a liquid natural gas concession owned by the Emirate to the Chinese and ultimately are turned into suicide bombers by Iranian terrorists using a missile accidentally sold them by Clooney in a prior operation gone sour.
This movie is complex and must be followed closely. Its main thesis is that big oil controls what happens in the Middle East and has the U.S. Government is at its disposal to further its economic control of the regions main resources, oil and gas. It is an exceedingly dark view of American policy in the Middle East, who controls it and for whose benefit. After the revelations of Iraq War I and II and the recent run up in oil prices you will leave the theatre asking yourself exactly why are we in Iraq? However the film may be a little over the top as many political thrillers are.
It is still worth seeing for the questions it raises and also it is an engrossing view of the complexities of the Middle East and the politics surrounding it.
However the movie may be obscure at times so it is best to read some of the more astute reviews of the film before you go. Technically the film is well made and the acting is excellent. It was a pleasure to see something beyond the usual thin gruel produced by Hollywood.