Sunday, December 11, 2005

Syriana review

Just came back from watching Syriana. This one is going to take a while for me to really wrap my brain around it: it's been a long time since I've seen a movie so complex, so multi-layered, so cerebral. It's directed by Stephen Gagan and I've heard some people compare it to his 2000 movie Traffic, but I haven't seen Traffic yet so I don't know how accurate that is. Might have to though after today, but not before probably watching Syriana again.

The tagline for Syriana is "Everything is connected". I lost count on how many seemingly disparate storylines there are going on in Syriana: at least four, maybe even six of them. In the end, they all come together in cohesive focus on one of the most driving issues of the modern world: Middle-Eastern petro-economic politics. A tired long-time CIA operative, the shady merger of two American oil companies, a young energy analyst looking for profit, a Washington lawyer, unemployed Pakistani oil workers who come under the sway of a radical Islamic teacher, and the struggle between two princes over the dominion of a desert nation... these are what you're going to have to keep track of when you go in seeing this movie. It jumps all over the globe, from the streets of Tehran and the alleys of Beirut, to the upscale posh of Georgetown and rich lifestyle of Texas oil executives. This ain't a "date" movie by any stretch, or even anything fit for casual viewing. Go in to see it if you've seriously got time to ponder it through your gray matter afterward.

What's the meaning of Syriana? I think this is a thought-provoking - albeit fictionalized - tale of American policies among the mega-corporate and the foreign elite. I like to think that this country would not take some of the measures that it does in Syriana to guarantee maintaining the status quo... and yet I'm not all that really assured that our government would not engage in this sort of thing. I mean, we still don't even have a clearly defined end goal in Iraq - we never had that going in - other than being told that we could look forward to incredibly cheap oil after we took the place. In Syriana, as happens in the real world all too often, the value of human life plays distant second fiddle to financial and politicial convenience. It's like what Nasir says at one point: he's trying to bring freedom and an independent infrastructure to his country, but because he chooses not to deal with America he's branded a traitor and a communist sympathizer. Sounds way too much like how the current breed of war-hawks like to condemn those who are against the Iraq war as "un-American", "fifth-column", and too many other nasty things that need mentioning here... doesn't it?

If you're wondering what the word "Syriana" itself means: I've no idea. I thought going in that this would be the name of a fictional Mid-East oil-rich country. There is such a nation at the center of Syriana's plot, but its name is never given. I guess it could be a term for the entire Syria/Iran/Saudi region, but it's a new one on me if it is.

Syriana boasts a solid cast: lots of good faces you'll see here. I already knew that George Clooney and Matt Damon were in it, but I was a little surprised to also catch William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson and Christopher Plummer (even though their names are all over the poster, which only serves to let you know how often it is I actually look at stuff like that, doh!). Fans of the old Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will easily pick out Alexander Siddig as Prince Nasir. Jeffrey Wright is the lawyer caught in the middle of the oil companies merger. Amanda Peet plays the wife of Damon's hotshot oil analyst.

Even though I'm still trying to piece it all together in my mind, I'm glad I caught Syriana on its opening weekend (between this and The Chronicles of Narnia and my coverage of all things classic Kong I've done an awful lot of reviewing the past two days!). If you want something that'll make you actively work to think about it, you can't go wrong with Syriana. Just one bit of caution: the "George Clooney torture scene" is intensely stomach-turning, so don't feel ashamed if you have to cover your eyes.

0 comments: