Syriana: What Goes Around, Comes Around

EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED.

syrianaThis is a complex film and yet the tagline manages to sum it all up. Everything is connected. Yes it is, and this film shows how conscious acts and circumstances all work together to shape the world. We may think that we can control everything, but it is those small details that we forget or ignore that can suddenly blow up in our faces and ruin everything. Syriana shows how this is dangerously true in the world of oil and politics.

So, what is this world like? Well, this is the kind of place where the mistake of a freewheeling CIA operative (George Clooney) could mean that innocent people lose their lives because of an American missile on the loose. It’s the place where a young Pakistani is rejected when he comes to the Persian Gulf to work in the oilfields and instead finds comfort with a charismatic cleric who shows him the “true” brand of Islam. It’s a place where an Arab prince has a secret dream of democratizing his country, but neither he nor his young, American adviser, an energy analyst (Matt Damon), know that the CIA has marked him for extinction.

This world is a place where two powerful oil companies are about to merge and become even more powerful, and where an investigator (Jeffrey Wright) is hired to make sure that no legal problems stand in the way. It’s a place where globalization is necessary but sometimes painful, where corruption is a natural thing and there is no other alternative. There are plenty of characters and storylines and it’s pointless to get into it too much. Just watch the movie and see if you think it all comes together. What is required of the viewer is an active interest in politics and what goes on in this particular part of the world.

I never found this film boring. I enjoyed many things about it and admired its attempt to show us how absurd this world really is. To me, the downside of Syriana is that I never felt emotionally drawn into the proceedings the way I did in Traffic (2000), a film with a similar structure, which director Stephen Gaghan won an Oscar for writing. Still, this is impressive stuff.

Depressing conclusions
The acting is good, although no one in particular stands out. Clooney put on weight and grew a beard to become the tired CIA veteran whose specialty is Beirut; he is engaging, but doesn’t carry the film. Damon, Hurt, Plummer and Cooper play characters that seem to fit them very well, but Wright is more of an eye-opener as the investigator who seems ill at ease with the kind of work he’s hired to do. A novel written by former CIA agent Robert Baer inspired director Gaghan who made the script utterly believable. His conclusions are depressing and offer no solutions to any problems, except perhaps a wish for governments and intelligence agencies to never underestimate anything when dealing with other countries.

The title “Syriana” is said to be the term used in Washington to describe an artificial Middle Eastern state where the West would be in complete control of the production and distribution of oil. It’s a chilling, imperialist term, but it says a lot about wishful thinking in a world where violence, money, corruption and oil come together and no one is able to untangle the web.

Syriana 2005-U.S. 128 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Jennifer Fox, Georgia Kacandes, Michael Nozik. Written and directed by Stephen Gaghan. Cast: George Clooney (Bob Barnes), Matt Damon (Bryan Woodman), Jeffrey Wright (Bennett Holiday), Chris Cooper, William Hurt, Mazhar Munir… Tim Blake Nelson, Amanda Peet, Christopher Plummer, Viola Davis, Mark Strong.

Trivia: Co-executive-produced by Steven Soderbergh and Clooney.

Oscar: Best Supporting Actor (Clooney). Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actor (Clooney).

Quote: “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. Corruption is why we win.” (Nelson)

Last word: “I had written a lot. I was feeling disconnected from the material. Like it just didn’t have the heart that I thought it would need. It felt too intellectual or something. So I was talking to a friend of mine… and, um… it was actually Miranda July, who I had met at the Sundance Labs. I had read her script, and I thought ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know’, and I was just… I was e-mailing with her about something or another, and I remember saying, ‘I just feel so disconnected from what I’m doing in a way.’ And I had told her in this same e-mail… I had described my son having had a nightmare, and that I went down and picked him up, and he immediately said, ‘I want to look out the window,’ and then I went and I held him. And… and… it was around the time that his mother and I split up. And we were alone. She wasn’t there. So I was alone in the house with the kids, and I just… held him in the window… for like two hours… and we looked out at the streetlight. And, uh… it was really powerful for me, y’know? And Miranda wrote me back and said, ‘That’s what the movie’s about. That’s what you’re trying to do.’ And I was just, ‘Oh, yeah’. (Gaghan, Ain’t It Cool)

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