Syriana (***)

Posted on December 27th, 2005 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

First of all, be prepared to pay attention. If you’re not in the mood to stay focused and track details and make logical jumps and not be spoon-fed the typical, ham-handed, Hollywood hoopla, then skip this movie and go see King Kong. However, if you’re in a thoughtful mood and want to be challenged, educated, and entertained, then go see Syriana.

It also helps if you have an interest in geopolitics and a healthy skepticism that causes you to wonder what the differences are between what the government says, what the news reports, and what reality is. Syriana tells a complicated story by following several key characters and showing their points of view as they interact, intersect, or pass in the night.

The backdrop of the story is the oil bidness and how the trillions of dollars involved end up causing oil companies to act as nation-states, and also causes the disenfranchised of the world to direct their hatred at the oil companies in the same way they hate fat, comfortable western nations.

The movie is a fictionalized story based on a non-fiction book by a former CIA agent who worked the Middle East beat back in the 80’s. The book is called “See No Evil”, by Robert Baer. I have not yet read the book, but plan to do so very soon.

The story borders on being opaque, and I had to lean over to Mynagirl more than once and whisper stuff like “Which brother is he?” and “Is that somebody we’re already supposed to know?”. But it gives you just enough of the story so that even though the blanks aren’t all filled in, you’re able to get the gist of it. I like that in a movie…challenge me to keep up and don’t feel you have to have some character exposit everything for the audience.

Along with its intricate plotting the film also has great acting and directing. George Clooney disappears into his role as a the CIA agent, sporting a full beard and a few more pounds that make him seem much more Everyman-y and much less Clooney-y. Then there’s Christopher Plummer – yes, that Christopher Plummer, from The Sound of Music – turning in a chillingly effective performance as a behind-the-scense string-puller. Matt Damon is also effective as the eager and idealistic consultant.

If you’re comfortable having a black-and-white view of the world, and you don’t want that worldview challenged, you should skip this film. Everything and everybody in this film is some shade of grey and while some of the characters are truly bad, none are truly good in the typical Hollywood sense. But if you have an open mind and are energized by challenges then this might be the movie for you.

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