We’re in a highly prolific period for politically charged movies. There was the arms trade drama Lord of War, the romantic UNthriller The Constant Gardener and there’s the upcoming McCarthyism biopicGood Night and Good Luck.
One of the most anticipated political hot potatoesis Syriana. Coming from the Oscar winning writer of Traffic and concerningitself with the topical theme of the oil trade between the US and the MiddleEast, this could very well be one of the most important films of theyear.
Similar to Traffic, Syriana follows a number of intertwining stories.First there’s Bob (George Clooney), a CIA operative who begins to discoverthe truth behind what he has been working for.
Then there’s Bryan (MattDamon) an energy analyst who suffers a horrific family tragedy and strikesup an unlikely understanding with an idealistic Gulf prince. Then there’sBennett (Jeffrey Wright), a lawyer who is given the unenviable task ofdealing with a potentially corrupt merger between two oil companies.
Finallythere is Wasim (Mazhar Munir), a Pakistani teenager who after unfairlylosing his job becomes intrigued by the words of a charming preacher.
Syriana is not an easy film to follow. That’s not necessarily acomplaint, in fact it’s refreshing not to have all of the details explainedin a patronising fashion, but as a warning, if you like to leave your brainon standby at the movies it’s best to leave this well alone.
There is somuch packed into the movie that it demands a second viewing. I believe thatmany of the more personal, human aspects will become all the more powerfulon repeat viewings.
The film’s directorial fashion is also similar to Traffic.Considering that it is directed by its author and produced by itsdirector, Steven Soderbergh, that’s not a great surprise. But thiscomparison leaves Syriana wanting as much of Soderbergh’s style is notapparent here. Gaghan does however have a skillful management of each of thevarious stories and their links are not tenuous as they often are inensemble films.
The film is highly damning of the suspected links between terrorism,governments and the oil business and although it claims to be set in thepast, it’s very much tied to the present. It has been dismissed by some asanti-American, a term usually dished out to movies that dare to break thestatus quo and challenge the conservatism of much of Hollywood. Its searingconclusion will likely fuel this as it paints a depressing image ofinternational relations and political corruption.
The acting is uniformly good but as its being painted as an Oscarcontender there are no single performances that scream out. The characterwho commands the most attention is the idealistic prince,played by Alexander Siddig. His character arc is incredibly powerful andultimately poignant.
If anyone from the film should be singled out though itshould be writer-director Stephen Gaghan for bringing such a challenging andthought-provoking thriller to the screen. On first viewing, all of thefilm’s many intricacies may not have been crystal clear, but when a film isclever enough for you to want to see it all over again then you know you’rewatching something special.