Syriana

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Syriana One man's corruption is another man's profit

Dec 12, 2005 (Updated Dec 12, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:smart, dry, political thriller strong dialogue excellent acting.

Cons:lack of women characters, sometimes confusing

The Bottom Line: One of the finest political thrillers ever made. It's talky,dense and you'll need to pay close attention.


"Corruption ain’t nothing more than government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulation. That’s Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption is what keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around here instead of fighting each other for scraps of meat out in the streets. (beat) Corruption... is how we win.”

Syriana is that rare movie that doesn’t condescend to its audience. It is a very complicated, very murky, very confusing film filled with a lot of characters, a lot of scenarios and to begin to understand it you should be up on your knowledge of politics and the international geo-political landscape. It’s a propaganda film of course and it’s flaw with mainstream audiences will be that it’s talky, dense, confusing and there’s no clear heroes and at times you might feel it doesn't have a sense of direction (it does).

I can hear someone coming out of the movie saying something like: Man that was boring. We need a movie to tell us that oil company executives are sleazy, that our government is involved in dirty deeds? That the world is run by greed and money? I wanted things to blow up. I wanted naked women.

QUICK SNAPSHOT REVIEW 1
Syriana-- No naked women, a couple of things blow up but no spectacular explosions, lots of dialogue softly spoken, lots of characters, very hard to follow. If you liked Dukes of Hazzard—stay far away from this movie. This is boring !!!


We don’t always understand what some of the characters are trying to do. We have to speculate and pay attention, and try to figure it out. I hope audiences will think about the movie AFTER they have left the theater and discuss it with others. You are likely to discover this movie is one of the scariest films you’ll ever see and in league with one of the greatest political thrillers the original 1962 version of the Manchurian Candidate. It’s better film than “Wag the Dog” and “Traffic”. If you truly disliked those films, you're not going to like this one.

Syriana is cold with few humorous moments, no love story, no tender or sentimental moments, very little passion on the sleeve and you only get a few glimpses of women in the entire movie, with only one appearing on screen long enough to have some dialogue and make an impression.(that’s a flaw—and its one a few additional scenes might have cleared up...but I understand the approach--).

The audience's biggest help line in getting through this is having several well cast recognizable faces around to help you keep the characters straight. You won’t get explanations of who is who, and how relationships are what they are. You’ll have to connect a lot of dots and figure things out for yourself. There are also no heroes.

The closest we come to an everyman in this movie is an executive of a commodities trading firm, an American working in Geneva, played by Matt Damon. He’s got a beautiful wife and two kids. We aren’t introduced to him until we meet several other characters and we realize that he’s perhaps one of the least important characters in the film. A tragedy gives him access to royalty and he's befriended by a prince who confides in him the dreams and frustrations he has. That’s only one of several story-lines. We wind up seeing how well-meaning socio-political interests can be completely twisted by a greedier business interest. Corporations just can’t help themselves can they? They have profits to get and stockholders to make happy.

We’re talking about a very dry, very talky suspense thriller whose various stories build toward conclusions that you read about in the newspapers everyday and wonder how this kind of stuff could happen.

You also absolutely need to see this one in the movie theaters because you’ll want to concentrate completely on what is being said, and how the various story-lines relate (sometimes very remotely) to each other. You can’t concentrate and focus on a television screen the same way you can do that at the movies, without interruptions, without your mind wandering to thoughts of what’s in the refrigerator to munch on or maybe you should be watching sexier and faster paced.

No one holds your hand and explains anything to you. That is a very, very good thing indeed, but it means you might have to see this one two or three times to understand everything that is going on and some of the politics and relationships being discussed.

A lot of us go to the movies to forget our troubles and
E--S--C--A--P--E. Now if you ask me it seems we do more escaping than facing any kinds of reality and a fictional movie that gets us to focus on issues and makes you want to learn and read more about what the heck might be going on—is a good thing.

It’s also going to have a very hard time selling tickets and getting a good healthy buzz. If I said : You have GOT TO SEE this new dry talky political thriller Syriana. See it before you take the kids to Narnia or King Kong or that goofy comedy -- its not likely you'll follow my advice.

You should.

I’m still not going to tell you enough about the movie to ruin it for you on the off-chance that you’ll figure out a way to fit it into a busy movie schedule.

QUICK SNAPSHOT REVIEW 2
Syriana—Cynical smart, talky political movie thriller. Very dry with very little humor, no sex, no love story, just a touch of action. Some excellent dialogue and excellent performances. Intrigue, back stabbing. . .lots here to think about.


The central plot of the movie concerns one of the Persian Gulf states signing a deal to supply oil to China. It’s a problem for U.S. political interests but they’ll get over it with assurances that they will still get a military base inside the country. It also is a problem for a Texas based oil company Connex (which represents a huge oil company like Exxon) who was trying to stop the deal and get to the oil themselves. Meanwhile a small somewhat obscure oil company named Killen gets a deal to drill for oil in Kazakhstan which has forced Connex into a merger with Killen to get its hands on the oil—which has become much more important now that the China deal has gone through. The merger however triggers a Justice Department investigation into the deal.

The film opens with Clooney as a veteran CIA field agent making an arms deal in Tehran, Iran. You may not even realize it’s a sting to set up and eliminate a couple of presumably very bad people.
Wait a minute did the car just blow up in back of him? Does that mean . . . ?

Pay attention. There’s a reason one of the molten copper super guns seems to be going to an Arab.

I’m not going to try and tell you more than that, because you can interpret several things that happen in a couple of different ways making either the U.S. government, the Oil Company or some rogue CIA and FBI actions responsible for some things that don’t go quite as planned. There’s nothing new about conspiracy theories or that oil companies are very greedy and their hands get dirty sometimes.

What’s new is how much this movie is telling us—even though it is doing so in a somewhat confusing manner. We aren’t told everything we need to know—who really does know everything anyway?

There’s several stories that involve family relationships –not in any sentimental manner or with a great deal of depth, but we are introduced to Matt Damon as Bryan Woodman) and his family. Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig) and his complex relationship to his younger brother (Prince Meshal) and father. There’s the strained relationship of lawyer Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) to his alcoholic father (—again shown briefly without sentimentality). There’s also the father-son Pakistani oil workers who find out they are losing their jobs which means the father’s dream of getting his wife to this new land of opportunity seems more impossible than ever before. The son (Mazhar Munir) –desperately needs something to believe in before he falls into hopeless despair.

A big bellied, salt and pepper bearded George Clooney plays the veteran CIA filed agent, Robert Barnes. He bulked up adding 35 pounds to play the role and he wound up hurting himself (spinal injury) during a fairly simply stunt he performed. Chris Cooper plays Jimmy Pope an oil executive. Christopher Plummer is at his silky slimy best playing Dean Whiting the guy who runs the well-connected Washington law firm that’s performing the due diligence on the merger and figuring out a way to build a layer between the government and the oil company dealings. He assigns Bennett Holiday to the case. Jeffrey Wright (resembling a middle-aged James Earl Jones) plays Bennet. William Hurt shows up as a mysterious C.I.A. consultant who may or may not be anyone’s trusted friend. Matt Damon plays commodities trader Bryan Woodman; Amanda Peet plays his wife. Tim Blake Nelson plays an oil executive who gets to mouth that great speech you see at the beginning of this review. There’s some very good lines to be found here. Most of them are quietly spoken and the reaction to them is understated and just right.

The stories are not always directly related to each other-but they are part of picture. You’ve seen this kind of multiple sometimes interconnected story line construction in Robert Altman films like Nashville and Short Cuts and more recently in the movie: CRASH.

Syriana was written and directed by Stephen Gaghan (who won an oscar for his screenplay of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic a few years ago). It is based on the 2002 memoir See No Evil, written by former CIA operative Robert Baer. And while the film resembles the truth it has been served up as a work of fiction.

Alexandre Desplat's pulsating music score tries a bit too hard—but not on the scale of a John Williams-- to keep things moving, but I didn’t find it overly intrusive, since I only noticed it at all in a few key scenes.

Syriana uses numerous locations throughout the U.S., Europe and Middle East (Dubai and Egypt predominately but I suspect some second unit work in Tehran and other countries). There are more than 70 speaking roles in this 2005, 126 minute films.

I was impressed with Robert Elswit’s cinematography which shifted gears and film looks several times. You have a blue-ish hue to the boardroom scenes, a stark white look at other times, a bright yellow look at desert locations. There isn’t a lot of overly showy or headache inducing swish pans going on. I will need to see the film again to fully appreciate all that was going in terms of the photography and editing (Tim Squyres).

Syriana doesn’t insist it’s a great movie with an important message in the way an Oliver Stone movie might. Instead it’s got complete confidence in what it is doing and understates. It’s not manic, it’s not loud, it is not in your face. You have to pay attention, and even when you do you still might miss a lot of what it going on, it will take an effort to keep up with the movie. It’s a smart movie, told from a couple of points of view. If you’re a Christian Conservative you will hate it. I hope there’s enough interest from people to at least make it a modest hit.


Recommend this product? Yes

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