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Syriana
Film review of the movie by Stephen Gaghan with George Clooney

Article added on August, 21, 2006
  
Stephen Gaghan is the writer and director of the film Syriana (2005), a story inspired by Robert S. Baer's book, See No Evil (order the book from Amazon.com). Gaghan explained in a Washington Post online chat on November 15, 2005 that the movie is only loosely inspired by Baer's book and that its title, Syriana, stands for "man's perpetual hope of remaking any geographical region to suit his own needs, a dream that in the case of the Middle East has been going on at least since the time of Caesar in 80 B.C." The entire Middle East is composed of borders artificially drawn by colonial powers. Furthermore, the current U.S. administration's ambitions to reshape the region - although rather to democratize it than to redraw the frontiers - are well-known.

The film's storylines are works of fiction, but they are partly inspired by real events and the current stakes of geopolitical dimensions, which mainly include politics regarding oil and terrorism. The C.I.A.'s and other intelligence agencies' failures, the U.S. administration's poor handling of the Middle East and the energy crisis, the greedy U.S. oil industry and its equally unsympathetic Arab political and economic competitors and partners are part of the plot. Syriana is - in Hollywood terms - a politically correct movie, although Gaghan asserts that he is not a "liberal" (in the sense of U.S. politics), but a "Kentucky moderate".

Gaghan has previously written the screenplay for Traffic (2000; order the DVD from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.de). The film won him an Oscar for the Best Adapted Screenplay in 2000. It was directed by Steven Soderbergh, who won the 2000 Academy Award for Best Director for it. It explored the "war on drugs".

The background of Syriana are other failed "wars", the one "on terror" as well as the one for the control and exploitation of natural energy resources. As in Traffic, the spectator has to follow several parallel stories taking place in various locations and involving a handful of key characters. However, Syriana is neither intellectually, nor artistically or technically on the level of the great Academy Award deserving movies. It is a film worthwhile watching, but not The masterpiece, as some critics have argued.

The different narration strands are thought to illustrate the complexity of today's world. Yet, a master such as director Pedro Almodovar would have handled the multiple storylines in a more refined and competent way. Stephen Gaghan's concept and some of his ideas deserve credit, the execution however lags behind his ambition.

The character of the career-conscious and boyish energy analyst working in Geneva (Matt Damon), who reconciles in the end with his wife and refuses to play dirty games on the geopolitical chess board, is too simplistic a figure. Not all of Gaghan's figures are schematic. Sometimes ambition and idealism, greed and healthy self-interest fight within a character. Difficult father-and-son relations complement the picture. To understand all the innuendos, one has to watch the movie more than once.

A Golden Globe and an Academy Award for George Clooney for Best Supporting Actor in Syriana is too much of an honor for a good, but surely not the year's best performance. Taking on 30 extra pounds and growing a beard are not enough. Clooney deserved an Oscar for his part in Intolerable Cruelty opposite the equally brilliant Catherine Zeta-Jones, but comedies are too often overlooked for awards.

Syriana is not a simple comment on what has happened since 9/11. On one hand, it is a piece of fiction, on the other it goes beyond what the large public considers today's great conflicts. In the film, China and Kazakhstan are powers involved in the fight for the control of vital energy resources. This sounds prophetic. These are two of the additional players often ignored but already active in the global conflict involving the world's oil and gas dependency.

Lawyers, lobbyists, arms dealers, aspiring politicians, financial advisers, secret agents, terrorists (and/or freedom fighters), Arab princes and several father-son family dramas create a complex picture, which seems to be overshadowed by conspiracy theories, probably nurtured by the secrecy of the current Bush administration, itself partly a refuge of paranoia. If only Gaghan's skills as a director were up to this difficult task.

Syriana. Order the movie on DVD from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.ca.




Syriana. Get the film on DVD from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.ca.







Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages

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© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.