“Yeah, the whole Middle East thing, it’s all about oil and money, isn’t it?” Nope. Watching this was a real eye-opener. Through a long and heavily convoluted film, we are reminded of the complexities of international trade and negotiation, and just how utterly perplexing the whole business can be.
Starring (among a raft of others) George Clooney and Matt Damon, you may think this was a direct paraphrase of their ‘roles’ in Team America: World Police (2004): All corporations are bad, and the movie stars of the world, dripping with cash, are just the people to tell you how crap it all is. Happily, this intelligent, well-paced and genuinely thought-provoking piece is anything but an anti-business or anti-capitalist diatribe.
The reason for this is simple – human nature. This is a movie as much about the tyranny of evil men as it is about inter-governmental politics. How far would you be willing to go to make that all-important deal for your company? Capitalizing on the death of a child? Tacitly condoning torture and murder, whether by individuals or government edict? And what happens if there’s someone who understands the situation better than you – someone employed by the government as a specialist, who has seen the effects of this power game from the inside?
Many questions. Syriana (2005) does attempt to answer them all – at least on a surface level – in its frankly insufficient two hour running time. The question of how to resolve such a situation is never answered – indeed, it would take more than a movie, however good, to pin that one down. The answers we get are kept on a personal level, such as what happens to the individuals in this terrible power game, and why.
I’m not even going to go into the plot. As you will have gathered by now, it involves money, power, corruption, espionage and downright lies. The chilling part is that you could imagine this kind of thing going on in the real world every day. People – all people, whether they are considered ‘friendly’ or ‘hostile’ are manipulated, used and even killed – sometimes in the name of peace or for some perceived greater good. It’s a complex movie, with myriad stories all happening at the same time. Each thread is, however, distinct – even though they all intersect at some point. That said, with a little investment, you should have no trouble ‘getting’ it.
The real strength of Syriana is that it makes no distinction between who’s good and who’s bad. Everyone does bad things for their own reasons, and everyone does good things on the same basis. While never hammering the point home, this is definitely the motif. What’s the difference between the Hezbollah and the CIA? Not a great deal, apparently.
Usually, I would write something about the cast and director etc. I’m going to keep it brief and say that the direction is competently handled by the co-writer Stephen Gaghan (whose only other contribution to the big screen was the rather mediocre Abandon (2002)), and that the cast all do a stand-up job of making this a believable excursion into the hell that is international relations. I would rather urge you to see it for yourself, then draw your own conclusions, as I believe that this is a film everyone should see. It’s not fun, but is very engaging and pushes all the right buttons if you have any conscience at all.
126 mins. In English, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, French and Mandarin.