– rated SIMMERING
People have been saying that this is a very complicated movie and
difficult to follow. I didn't find it so. Sure it is
fast-moving. Sure it tells parallel stories. But the
narrative of each story is chronological. All we, the audience,
have to cope with is the fact that multiple stories are intercut.
Well, that's been happening since the days of DW Griffith, so we should
be used to it by now! Syriana was directed & scripted by
Stephen Gaghan, who wrote Traffic
(Soderbergh, 2000), which employed a similar structure of multiple
During the film I noticed how energy is used to power everything
everywhere in peoples homes and offices. There is no doubt about
the demand for the stuff. There's even a scene where there's a
blackout during a meeting of
George Clooney's character with reperesentatives of Hezbollah. So
energy and the getting of it is the main preoccupation of the
film. But although the script is clever and the film is
well-acted and well-made, don't expect any major revelations. It
is not an astonishing film by any means. However, there are a
couple of quite prescient aspects to it.
First, for Australians who are currently reading about & hearing
from a commission of inquiry into alleged payments that might be called
"bribes" to Iraqi authorities under Saddam Hussein by the Australian
Wheat Board, there is much to recoginse in Syriana. A couple of salient
"Corruption is our protection. It's what keeps us safe and warm.
We have laws about it precisely so we can get away with it.
Corruption is how we win," says a nasty character called Danny Dalton
(played by Tim Blake-Nelson).
"In this town your innocent until you're investigated," says a
character called Whiting (played by Chistopher Plummer as a sleek &
Next, the recent hunting accident involving Dick Cheney has resonance
in a similar scene in this film. These Good Ole Boys sure like to
Another strand of the film is the sheer randomness of life. If
only the Woodman family hadn't gone to Marbella. What if the
passengers hadn't swapped cars before the climactic scene?
Then there's the question of the increasing bureaucracy of
today's CIA. The script is based on a book by former CIA
operative Robert Baer. He complaines that there's no longer any
proper intelligence on the ground, and that this endangers the
agents. This point is well-made in the film.
Another strand of Syriana
follows the targetting and recruitment of suicide bombers. This
is very well-done as far as I could tell (having seen Paradise Now (HanyAbu-Assad, 2005) twice last year, and the details are still
fresh in my mind).
The film is superficially impressive and very slick, but there are a
few gaps in its logic, and a few factual difficulties. I didn't
find the climax convincing because of the traceability of the source of
the violence. I had a problem with the swimming pool scene
too. There's a factual mistake in that apparently the
Federal Trade Commission, not the Justice Department, reviews oil and
gas mergers. These are quibbles, but in a film that is trying to
represent a political reality, I found missing these details
sloppy. And since the film does treat the audience as having a
deal of intelligence, these minor points caused me a deal of annoyance.
But looking back at the bigger picture, given the ending focusing on
the Woodman and the Bennett families "going home" and being together, I
have to ask the question: is this film predicting a new American
isolationism? Certainly the film directs our attention to various
father/ son relationships along the way.
Finally, an interestig piece of background trivia: I heard that a
whole strand of the story, involving a character played by Greta
Scacchi, was jettisoned when it was found that the film was running an
hour longer than the current version of 126 minutes.