November 26, 2005
I’m sure you’ve already come across countless reviews that whine about Syriana being “too complicated”, “too difficult to follow” and “too jumpy”. Well yes, if you’re one of those annoying morons who can’t sit through a Disney film without asking questions about the plot, this one will go right over your head. Everyone else, particularly those who were able to follow Traffic (written by the same guy), should be fine. I will agree that the storytelling could have used a bit more exposition, seeing as I did find myself wondering “which old white guy is this?” at the beginning of some scenes. Otherwise, no excuse for not paying attention like some slack jawed movie critic.
Similar to Traffic, Syriana follows a number of ostensibly discrete plot threads that slowly begin to converge over the course of the movie. At the center of it is a merger between two oil companies, specifically the intersection of political and business interests as one lawyer navigates the federal approvals process (I recall this note by Lounsbury some time ago on the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and its application in emerging markets). Without giving away details, I was struck by the portrayal of brazen horsetrading between various significant players in government and business. Not surprising, based on my (limited, but ugly) experience. Hell, not even depressing anymore. But then I am about as cynical as they come.
Running parallel to the merger is the story of Prince Nasir, a Western-educated Emir’s son with progressive tendencies and a desire to build a lasting legacy for his people, instead of simply squandering his unnamed Gulf state’s finite oil revenues (perhaps his character was inspired by Sheikh Zayed, the late ruler of UAE). Unfortunately, his wastrel brother has his eyes on the emirate and is supported by powerful allies of convenience. A cruel twist of fate turns energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) into Prince Nasir’s patronizing yet well-meaning economic advisor. Here we are treated to repeated lectures on the dangers of shortsighted energy policies in the Mideast, perhaps the only overt “commentary” in the entire movie. Meanwhile, world-weary CIA agent Bob Barnes (George Clooney) is being trotted out to perform for senior bureaucrats, getting screwed by his handlers and having his fingernails pulled out in Beirut. Good times.
One of the relatively minor plot threads involves a small group of recently fired Pakistani oil workers living in the unnamed Gulf country. In a film where character development was mostly an afterthought, watching these wretchedly poor young men falling under the sway of a compelling, blue-eyed zealot was rather disturbing. In one scene, five or six men are squeezed into a cramped portable housing unit, watching a drama on a blurry, soundless television set. One mentions that the local madrasa was serving lamb kebobs that day. Another, barely a teenager, leans back on his tiny bunk bed and murmurs wistfully about how much he likes lamb. That moment sticks in my mind for some reason.
Anyway, good flick. Probably worth a second viewing, just to catch all the little details.
Posted by eerie at November 26, 2005 11:18 PM
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i'll catch it when it comes out in amman ... yeah, RIGHT.
your plot description is very surprizing - i'd been under the impression that the film was based on robert baer's book(s). hmmm ...
Posted by: raf* at November 27, 2005 04:17 AM
Never read the memoirs, but I heard they were used as a jumping off point (e.g. basing Clooney's character on Baer), not as the basis for the whole movie.
Posted by: eerie at November 27, 2005 10:13 AM
Actually, I have not and have not the slightest fucking clue as to what the bloody fuck this is about.
Perhaps some orientation for the non-North American cranky bastards in the world?
Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 29, 2005 09:25 AM
It's a fucking movie about Mideast politics, business and espionage.
Posted by: eerie at November 29, 2005 09:46 AM
Why this sounds quite engaging.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 29, 2005 10:23 AM
Not sure if it's been released in Europe yet. If it wasn't for the bloody region coding, I could probably find you a DVD.
Posted by: eerie at November 29, 2005 10:50 AM
Release date in the US, for us peasants without the connections to get into a preview, is Dec 9, FYI.
Posted by: pantom at December 1, 2005 10:48 PM
Bloody region coding is generally not an issue for those of us in thesehereparts. It is not even remotely difficult to purchase a dvd player that forgets to check (whatever the label on the outside says).
Posted by: Tom Scudder at December 3, 2005 03:26 AM
yes, i'm behind the times. i just saw it. thought it was a good film. sadly, my ears have been too blunted by tunisian arabic to pick out the different dialects. all sounded the same to me! and all surprizingly understandable.
E: i thought you'd get a kick out of this. i just told some friends i finally saw it. now they're requesting i watch it with them when it comes out on DVD to explain the plot. it's too complicated for them! i should really screen my friends for intelligence...
Posted by: drdougfir at January 7, 2006 02:07 AM
I didn't know if I could still comment on this thread.
The classified briefing scences made me roar with laughter. Ditto the fake OPINT where the eeevul CIA droids target the convey I recognized the Beltway foliage.
Like eerie I was most moved by the sad poverty of the paki boys. Maybe worse (more sentimental) than eerie I felt like crying big fat american tears.
I understood the seduction of belonging, of clean clothes and a pupose and lamb kebobs and french fries and game of soccer.
The Imam preached that economics could not save the ME. Nasir believed that was the only salvation.
My favorite part was the desert falconry scene. A tribute to the bedu, like the goats on the highway and the arabian horses in the Emir's stables. But those were hawks, not falcons. Falcons take their prey on the wing. Hawks eat on the ground. A falcon flown to the lure will take the prey and return to the falconer's fist. The hawk struck the lure and ate on the ground.
Perhaps Bob was meant to be a hawk.
Posted by: jinnilyyah at April 19, 2006 10:25 PM