Syriana (R) B+
by Amy Diaz
George Clooney is one of many people getting kicked around by Big Oil in
the multi-layered Syriana, a sort of travelogue for your oil, from its
home in unstable parts of the world to its resting place in your SUV.
Which is not to say that Syriana is shrill or scolding or angry in any
way other than the desperate way in which people get angry when they
have no better options than the bad options in front of them.
bad options in front of Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (Alexander Siddig) are
(a) to let his wastrel older brother become king of their oil-rich,
everything-else-poor country and watch as money that Westerners pay for
oil is squandered on yachts and lavish parties and (b) to get into
business with China, attempt to shunt the money from the oil sale into
social programs and risk the wrath of the United States.
Attempting to help him successfully navigate the minefield of option two
is Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), an energy analyst. Bryan can’t get Al-Subaai
to even talk to him until Bryan’s young son is accidentally electrocuted
during a party for Al-Subaai’s father. The boy’s death gets Bryan some
sympathy and gives him a bluntness that makes Al-Subaai trust him. But
Bryan may not be able to help Nasir convince his father that going
against America’s wishes, even to benefit their countrymen, is the way
Why? Meet Bob Barnes (Clooney), a CIA agent who is hired to — among
other things — give a demonstration in why you don’t want to be some
piss-poor Middle Eastern kingdom whose elite gets rich off oil. But,
when some things go wrong with his work (ending in a fingernail-removal
session that will make you full-body-cringe), Bob starts to rethink his
plans. He comes to believe that the government is going to make him a
patsy for its dirty work.
he won’t be the only one. When an oil deal goes wrong for some members
of the Big Oil world, they begin their own investigation as to which
corruption is working for them and which is working against them.
the end, the movie suggests, the corruption and viciousness in energy
trading hurts us all because, as we see in yet another of the film’s
storylines, it can sometimes indirectly lead to terrorism. When a buyout
of one oil company by another puts a group of Pakistani immigrants to
the Middle East out of work, one of the younger men falls into the sway
of a terrorist group, as much because its leaders offer to help his
mother immigrate from Pakistan as for any other reason, it seems.
Whether you feel this last bit, coupled with all the Texas accents of
the oil men, is part of some liberal propaganda machine or a
long-delayed bit of truth-telling is not something the movie will help
you decide — you’ll undoubtedly walk into the theater firm in your
belief in the superiority of your team. What Syriana does well as far as
its political themes is demonstrate consequences of consumption. Forget
about the environment or the price of gasoline for a minute — each
gallon of gas affects the politics of the world in a way that is easy to
forget until that politics literally explodes. No matter where you
stand, seeing these consequences is intellectually fascinating.
entertainment, Syriana is a tense, tightly woven thriller that might not
entirely live up to its hype but does make for an exciting and
surprisingly fast-paced story.