A lot of TV series brag of
being "ripped from the headlines." When it comes to current events
entertainment -- Syriana is the real deal. It is not only a
wonderfully complex (some may say too complex, granted) and entertaining
storyline, but it is about problems that are at this time incredibly relevant
for most everyone on Earth.
Syriana is a
multi-character story based on the oil business and the Middle East, but it
has a dizzying understanding of the intricacies and dark areas of the
seemingly eternal conflict stemming from the region.
It is an area where fuel,
wealth, political discontent, religion, poverty and espionage create an
impenetrably soupy morass of double dealing, violence and greed. There are
no starring roles in Syriana per se, but there are well over a dozen
major characters haunting the periphery of the plot.
George Clooney's aging and out-of-shape CIA spook is no more vital than any
of the others -- despite getting the notice and the poster face time.
Syriana is the
directorial debut of screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, who a few years ago penned
the equally trenchant script for Traffic, and that notoriously
labyrinthine and layered script seems almost simple by comparison. At
least in that film, you had a basic idea of who the good guys were and who
Syriana refuses to
be that black and white. Everybody does good and everybody does evil.
Sometimes it is for the right reason. Sometimes it is completely
selfish. There are no clear answers here, just like in real life.
Still, the movie works as a
fascinating look at the heart of darkness that fuels the conflict -- all the
different dimensions and the dirty little dealings which involve
governments, oil companies, lawyers, rich sheiks and impoverished
revolutionaries. It is a world where life is cheap and violence can be
Business and tragedy do
intertwine in a particularly horrifying way in the story of an American
business consultant who has a family tragedy (his son dies at the party of a
sheik) become a business opportunity for him. Despite his horror at
the situation ("How much for my other son," he asks the sheik's son
astonishedly) he does try to do good with this chance. The sheik's son
is also trying to use the arrangement for the betterment of the region.
So is Damon wrong for taking the offer? The movie tries not to judge
-- instead letting the man and his wife (Amanda Peet) come to terms with
what has happened in their own way.
Jeffrey Wright is also
unforgettable as a Washington lawyer who has to straddle his political
and the ethical worlds to protect a major corporate
merger between two oil companies by serving up as sacrificial lambs two
executives. While he rationalizes his stance, he also has to deal with
an alcoholic father with whom he has a mutually antagonistic relationship.
Clooney plays an aging CIA
agent who has lost his value in the agency. He is frantically trying
to find a lost missile that his superiors seem completely apathetic about.
Now he is just trying to survive and maneuver all the sides despite the fact
that his superiors have pretty much distanced themselves from him.
Syriana has no pat
answers to the problems it explores. In fact it is smart enough to
realize that there really are probably no answers. Money, politics,
power, anger and religion make for a combustible combination and Syriana
is a powder keg that is always just on the verge of blowing.
Between Crash earlier in the the year and now this movie, there is
good reason to believe that Hollywood is going back towards the complex
multi-character dramas which last flourished in the 70s. It's about
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Posted: April 8, 2006.