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.

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  1. Thanks Ed – wondering if you found Damon’s grand sweeping statements a bit contrived? The first one in the desert I could see, maybe and some of the other Americanish (“you backed the right pony”) okay, but he sometimes seemed way overboard, harping on the Arab situation. dunno

  2. Bud: Well it was clear to me that the Matt Damon character was caught up in the sweep of blind idealism, and I found the effect this had on his marriage to be very interesting. It seemed to me that Gaghan was making the point that the potential for reform shared a lot in common with the avaricious impulses of the other characters. A greed of an altogether different sort.

    So his speeches were called for. And I thought the initial desert scene (“How much do you want for my other kid?”) had some teeth to it.

  3. I saw this movie a couple of days ago and have had such a hard time figuring out what I think about it. But you’ve summarized it nicely. As to the Damon character, I think his situation is not so suprising. All American boy goes to mid-East for business. Son dies while doing business. He looks for – and finds – reason/justification . . . a bigger purpose. His ideals get the better of him. There is no “reason.” He returns to US where things are easier . . . thanks in part of course, to the whole thing he just left and doesn’t want to know any more. In other words, all of the puppet-masters behind the curtain, pulling the strings making a comfortable American life possible.

  4. In Brett’s absence, I would like to point out that he apparently finds moronic the stance of taking the movie seriously as opposed to enjoying it. Perhaps Dr. Mabuse does not understand the difference.

    While I do not enjoy, say, chlamydia I do take it seriously.

    Having that said (written), I don’t understand how taking something serioulsy could cast somebody as a moron. Without some a priori knowledge that something is undeserving of any consideration (I submit that any consideration is by definition “serious”) how else are we to know whether something is moronic, etc… A recursive Pantera’s Box, to be sure. Something I assume that Dr. Mabuse understands innately, thus the conflation of serious consideration with enjoyment. As to whether or not one enjoys something (puttting aside for now the dubious idea that something can only be enjoyed once viewede through the lens of considered recollections) and whether or not that causes somebody to be a moron (“very stupid person”) I disagree.

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