Film Review – Syriana
Directed by Stephen Gaghan.Certificate 15.
Reviewed by Patrick Harrington.
STEPHEN GAGHAN wrote ‘Traffic’ which was the winner of the Best Screenplay Academy Award. Gaghan has an unusual writing style and ‘Syriana’ reflects this. It is a densely plotted and fast-moving political thriller. It conveys a lot of information and interlocking stories cut back and forth. It requires your attention but it also holds it.
‘Syriana’ deals with big political issues but also moral ones. It illustrates the corruption of the oil industry and of State institutions. The central story of the film involves a questionable merger of two major American oil firms (Connex and Kileen). From there, everything else fans out. The story of Jeffrey Wright, the government official investigating the merger, George Clooney, the CIA operative with missions with no obvious goal, the Arab Emir from an unnamed oil producing country, and his two sons each wanting to take over his reign, the industry analyst (Matt Damon) who will use any situation to advance his company, and the young, poor, angry Arab youth who looks for meaning and purpose in his life.
‘Syriana’ leaves you wondering about political reform in Iran, what motivates a suicide bomber, America's seemingly unquenchable thirst for fuel and exploitation of foreign workers in refinery compounds.
Though this film has a heavy message it also manages to be more than mere agitprop. It has a number of strong performances. No single actor steals the show. Clooney stood out for me, though, as the disenchanted, somewhat seedy CIA man. It was brave of him to get a gut and an unkempt beard and leave behind his sex star status. He conveys a grim realism well and shows that he is an accomplished actor. It was also good to see Chris Cooper, playing a shrewd oilman, and Christopher Plummer, as the head of a corrupt law firm.
The story while complex is not convoluted. That's not to say that it's easy (I would certainly enjoy and profit from watching it again). Another strength of this film is that it does not attempt to answer many of the questions it raises. It leaves 'unfinished business' just as in the real world. We have to make judgements and try to move forward. Syriana's politics will undoubtedly alienate some. That doesn't matter. It is a riveting movie told in bold and imaginative style. No happy ending is supplied but aren't we still waiting for one here too?