Syriana   –   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 cross-cut stories.

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 quotes:
"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 & self-satisfied villain).

Next, the recent hunting accident involving Dick Cheney has resonance in a similar scene in this film.  These Good Ole Boys sure like to hunt!

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.