Syriana (2005)

Do you drive a car? The next time you fill up, consider the arguments of this movie, consider the kind of people that occupy it, consider their motivations. I’m not accusing you of anything, only suggesting a deeper analysis. Just think about where this gasoline comes from, how many lives it affects, and how. The movie, despite the backlash and promotional campaign, doesn’t accuse anyone either. It’s not pro-environment. It’s not anti-Republican. It’s not peacenick. It simply looks at the oil industry a little closer, revealing fascinating, shocking and compelling stories. It’s a marvel to watch, and even if you may not understand every plot-line all the time, you know you’re being educated, and this film comes with a lot of passion.

George Clooney has been very socio-politically involved lately. The guy has a few things to say. There was the black and white Good Night and Good Luck, there weer K Street and Unscripted, and now comes Syriana – written by Stephen Gaghan (Traffik, Rules of Engagement). It’s a complex movie, with intercutting plot-lines, too moany characters and muddled motivations. It’s difficult to follow, but the stuff you get blows your mind. Nothing really surprising, just drives the point: oil industry is a business, and government is very much a business. CIA, committees all have budgets, expenses, HR and deficits. And what do you do when you have a deficit? You either cut expenses (if you’re in a service industry), or raise prices (if you’re selling anything). That pretty much applies to everyone. Money is king in this film, and similar to Wall Street, greed is a good thing, because otherwise you will be trampled by someone just a little greedier.

Like in any well-written movie, a lot of things are said without a single word. Silences are more meaningful than long, protracted dialogues or monologues. What’s not being said is golden, and is delivered fantastically with body language, eyes, corners of the mouth. Consider the cast: George Clooney, Chris Cooper, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Peet, Mat Damon, Christopher Plummer. You’d pay to watch these people sit down and talk over a cup of coffee. Yes, they’re that good.

The plot, well, there are at least three stories, all interconnected. One deals with a government official (Jeffrey Wright) investigating a merger of two big oil companies, and looking for any possible irregularities, or back-end deals. Another deals with a rogue, seasoned CIA agent (George Clooney) sent in to protect … assassinate … protect Arab Emir (Alexander Siddig), and make sure that whatever oil deal is struck with the royal family (of the unknown country — movie title might give you a hint), the American interests are not threatened. Finally, another major plot line deals with a financial advisor (Matt Damon) who’s trying to side with the right part of a family to ensure his company’s needed services for a long time. The family in question has an aging patriarch and two young, ambitious sons, each eyeing the oil reserves, the contracts, the potential for power.

There are so many characters – jobless arabs who are out on the street once the merger is announced (they too have “synergy” issues), Securities & Exchange commission that wants to find any reasons to veto the big merger, but also anticipates side deals if the merger is allowed to go through. The financial company that knows it’s dealing with dirty money, but continues to advise for a cut of commissions. The CIA management that looks at every mission as a transaction – cost or profit, and every personnel is disposable, expendable, if the budget can be met.

It’s a fascinating look at many industries, and many personal/public appearances. When your job is not a typical 9 – to – 5, and your actions affect many people, and you can either treat it as a job, or take responsibility for every action. What do these characters choose when faced with a difficult decision? Find out. Syriana is a tough pill to swallow, because of the message, and the plot lines. It’s also highly educational and entertaining.

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