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This is a cross-post from my blog, but I would like to post my review of Syriana and get your thoughts on the movie. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it highly.
I just saw Syriana, a captivating piece inspired by former Middle East CIA case officer Bob Baer’s first autobiography. The movie is produced by the same outfit behind Traffic and has the same sort of documentary feel, though Soderbergh is not in the director’s chair or behind the camera. The cast is phenomenal and the story (or should I say “stories”?), while convoluted, is fascinating and very believable, except for an Iranian drug dealer trying to hock “liquid MDMA,” which does not exist. (Don’t ask how I know, but MDMA does not dissolve well in water and is never sold in liquid form. GHB is sometimes ignorantly or misleadingly referred to as “liquid ecstasy,” however. Before you start thinking I’m a drug addict, yes, I used to have a problem, and yes, I got help, so no, I’m not a user of anything but the occasional adult beverage).
The movie introduces several different plot threads that seem for the most part completely disparate, showing varied sides and strata of oil politics concurrently. As the movie nears its conclusion, the various threads knit together into a devastating conclusion. The threads include callous CIA administration, CIA field operations, Muslim oil workers struggling with the vagaries brought about as a consequences of international oil politics, the power brokers from oil-rich Islamic states and their Chinese and Occidental counterparts, whose dealings impact the fates of the aforementioned workers, legal eagles in both the private sector and government, a fundamentalist Islamic camp, and finally the family of an idealistic, yet as the story progresses, morally compromised American energy analyst Brian Woodman (Damon) based in Europe.
One of the most interesting things about all these different storylines is that the characters and their actions are presented for the most part objectively. For instance, someone who believes that empire is good and that the United States is within its rights to coopt other countries’ resources could watch the movie almost without objection, by simply siding with the people I would consider the Bad Guys. In other words, the movie lets you decide who the bad guys are, for the most part. Sure, people order people to be killed, but to some people protecting our prosperity is worth such abhorrent practices, as Blake Nelson proclaims in a brilliant speech defending corruption in Gordon Gecko-esque fashion.
One of the clues undermining the idea that these oilmen act exclusively in the interests of their country and not themselves is brilliantly betrayed by that same actor (Nelson). On a hunting trip, he lights up giddily with a sickening, readily apparent greed when discussing Iranian oil reserves. The only comparable greed to what Nelson depicts in that instant is a crackhead’s love of the pipe. It seems an accurate depiction of the insanity that drives the Kenneth Lays of the world.
In an important scene in the movie, there is a brilliant piece of symbolism, which could be accidental, but is amazing nonetheless. Woodman and his family are visiting an Imam and potential client at a party, and his son is playing in the pool with other kids. Night falls, and the light at the bottom of the pool is out. The children are playing a game, and they are lined up alongside the pool. Woodman’s elder son is supposed to jump in first, but before he does, he looks at the water anxiously. The water reflects the pitch of the night sky, looking for all the world like oil. What happens next defines a fascinating moral struggle that nearly costs Woodman his family.
I really expected the movie to revolve around Clooney’s character, but I think the most prominent plotline has to be Woodman and family’s story. Even so, Clooney is brilliant as a devoted, then disavowed, betrayed, desperate, and repentant field man.
As mentioned, the supporting cast is brilliant too. Without lauding a litany of actors, let me just say I thought they were all great.
I suggest everyone see this film. To those uninitiated in the politics of oil, it could be a real revelation, and for everyone, it’s a great story.
This post was edited by mclaincausey on Dec 16, 2005.
I enjoyed Syriana, I'll probably see it a second time as I missed quite alot of what was going on by not paying much attention. The movie has alot of unforgivingly fast paced, subtle dialogue which provided key plot points. I also wonder how close to reality Syriana was, and I wish more movies challenged us like it.