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March 26, 2014

Syriana (2005)
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Actors: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright

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Synopsis: A huge merger between two American oil companies has ramifications across a wide geopolitical spectrum – from the Arabian peninsula country the oil companies are trying to ‘sweeten up’, to the itinerant Pakistani workers who find themselves jobless after the merger, to a seasoned CIA operative hung out to dry by his bosses at Langley, to an energy consultant who finds himself thrust into the maelstrom of Middle Eastern oil politics after personal tragedy strikes…

Review: Watching Syriana is a real throwback to that small period of time when – post-9/11 and the Iraq invasion of 2003 – Western society, perhaps stunned out of its myopic cocoon, was attempting to put a mirror up to the reality of its political-economic conduct and dependencies, and how those may have brought about such catastrophic events. And sure, Syriana is unquestionably a touch didactic and cinematically inert in its sermonising, but I’m hard-pushed to think of a more cynical, self-critical ‘mainstream’ American picture, and one that so radically and empathetically portrays the genesis of Islamic suicide bombers.

From a purely dramaturgical reading, and especially on second viewing, some of the cogs of Syriana are more than a little transparently schematic – namely, the dichotomy of having two rival Emirs represent the decadent/liberal ends of the Arabian ruling spectrum, and in allowing a slightly unbelievable, ‘heroic’ CIA operative to emerge and draw the plot strands together for their climactic set-piece. That said, it seems churlish to criticise a film for didacticism when that instructionalism is an intentional part of its storytelling, and there is an underlying artfulness and compassion to the film that has often been overlooked by the critics who’ve sought to score easy points by overly ogling on the narrative’s earnest politicking. (March 2014)

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