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.
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.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
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
Syriana. Get the film on DVD from