Syriana‘s thematic content has been broken down well by Bud Parr. I have nothing further to add to his hosannas, except to note that I greatly enjoyed Syriana, ranking the film higher than Traffic. Where the visceral impact of Stephen Gaghan’s Traffic script was bogged down by Soderbergh’s trashy stylistics (at the expense of, oh say, offering us a visceral on-ramp so that we could actually give a damn about all of the characters), Gaghan as writer-director (working with Paul Thomas Anderson’s cinematographer, Robert Elswitt) allows the camera to accentuate a world where the connections are there but just outside our grasp of understanding.
Consider the moment in which George Clooney is talking with his son in a restaurant and the camera lingers for about a minute on the workers who are preparing their food as the dialogue continues over the visual. Or the moment in which Clooney and William Hurt are talking about spheres of influence and the camera, in a wide shot, allows a blue boxy IKEA to fill the entirety of the frame.
What makes Syriana a fantastic film, one I definitely plan to see again, is that, without really beating us over the head with didacticism too much (save, now that Bud has mentioned it, the Gecko-descended speech from Tim Blake Nelson), the film demands that we shift out of our traditional perspective and begin considering some of the global and economic connections that are kept under the radar. It does so in a way that strikes me not so much as political, but one which is more observational, concerned primarily with avarice run amuck. The film is not afraid to have its characters offer their perspectives (such as a moment late in the film when Alexander Siddig explains to Matt Damon precisely why he cannot reform his oil operation), but because I was so immersed in the story, trying to keep track of the five subplots, this dialogue didn’t really come across as partisan. Perhaps what Gaghan has accomplished here is a film that offers an uber-plot on steroids, proving in the process that the preachiness we might disapprove of in a less complex film isn’t really so unbelievable when it’s placed within a mammoth framework.
© 2005, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.