Now Showing: Syriana

Syriana is reputed to be a confusing movie. It's not a deserved reputation, yet it does seem to be the case that having to fit a sequence of vignettes together in the mind in order to make a story whole offends some viewers. If one watches the entire film and pays minimal attention to it, the plot becomes clear and shouldn't confuse anyone.

Summarizing, we can say it's a film about the interaction between the international oil trade and the U. S. government, and it develops the fairly standard theme that there are some brave and decent people in the world but that they're far outnumbered by  those who want to cover themselves and fit in. Since there are large monetary stakes involved, there's also danger. Some people get seriously hurt.

Is it about corruption? Yes, but corruption seen merely as the way of the world.

George Clooney, as a CIA agent who is gradually waking up to what he has been doing his whole career, gives an effective performance -- one might even say, a very un-Clooney-like performance. There's nothing clever or cool about his character and he clearly does not come across as a man women are drawn to. Matt Daman, as a young executive who wants to play the oil game but also has some scruples, is quite winning. In fact, the acting overall is superior, which makes each vignette by itself a fascinating and watchable little film. In some ways, the scenes portraying the lives of the young men who eventually become what our politicians revel in calling terrorists are the most engaging in the entire story.

It's inevitable that the movie will be discussed in terms of whether it presents a realistic view of the world. There are films where realism doesn't matter and others where it does. This is one of the latter. If Syriana doesn't tell us something about the way oil is bought and sold in the world, and particularly in the Middle East, then it's diminished not only as social commentary but as entertainment as well. One leaves the theatre thinking that though it's fictional, it's not far off the mark. Simple observation of people in almost any walk of life tells us that if they were put in the situations depicted in the film, they would behave about as the characters do. It's not quite right to say that people are no damned good, but, on the other hand, it's hard to keep that possibility completely out of one's mind. Syriana sends one away wondering seriously about whether political reform is possible.

Probably one of the signal contributions motion pictures make in society today is the message that actuality is strongly different from what we see displayed on the evening news or what we hear coming from the mouths of politicians. Syriana pushes that theme vigorously and manages to tell a fascinating story as well. For those reasons alone, it has to be seen as a worthy film. Whether it reaches greatness is a question that will take several years to answer.

Return to the Table of Contents

Articles may be quoted or republished in full with attribution
to the author and harvardsquarecommentary.org.

This site is designed and managed by Neil Turner at Neil Turner Concepts