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Review #98 of 365
Film: Syriana [R] 126 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $12.50
Where Viewed: Bellevue Galleria Stadium 11, Bellevue, WA
When 2nd Seen: 18 April 2006
Time: 3:35 p.m.
Review Dedicated to Jeremy K. of Chicago, IL
Yesterday, I filled another gap in the database that has gnawed away at me for a while. I finally saw Syriana for the second time (the first time was pre the start of movieEVERYday.com). Truth be told, the first time I saw it, I fell quite soundly to sleep about one-third of the way in and awoke with about one-third left to go. This does not work if you want to understand a movie this complicated. My failing to stay alert for the entire film was only mildly a reflection on the film. I was very tired, it was a late showing, and the film, while being fairly fast-paced and engaging, is steeped in dark events and imagery and some less than fascinating scenes—like one where an up-and-coming lawyer is scanning hundreds of pages of documents for clues to illegal pay offs. Not exactly keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat type stuff. So, thanks to the fact that this film is so politically charged, it is still playing in, usually only one per major city, theatres across the USA. I caught an earlier show to ensure I would be completely alert, purchased a frothy rootbeer at the concession stand to sip on which I rarely do, and prepared to absorb the film in its entirety.
Most of you who read this blog regularly, know that I will tend to take to the political analyses in films sometimes over the films themselves. I think this is important to do at times. Well, since so much in the interim between the release of Syriana last December and now has transpired politically in the world, stuff, that candidly I would never have even imagined possible, I am going to surprise even myself here and stick exclusively as possible to an analysis of the film itself and try to say little about the impact of the film or the message it makes. Though I might fail at that. Truth be told, this is a film that both hits you over the head with certain moral ground and, yet, is too subtle to be caught by those who are not specifically looking. In either case, it is very difficult to miss the political overtones and message as a whole.
So, strictly as a film, as entertainment, as a movie-going experience, you know the kind where it’s rainy outside on your day off so you think to yourself, “I know, I’ll go to the movies.” You pick a theatre with underground or, at least, covered parking, you stroll in with child-like enthusiasm whipping past the automated ticket ATM to the desk of the real live ticket seller and say, “I’ll take one for ___________” (fill in the blank), plop down your $7.50 for the matinee, $13 for the combo super nachos and large frothy beverage and upgraded-for-$2 Junior Mints®, race over to the usher who tears your ticket with the precision made easy by perforations non-existent in your childhood days where many a memento was ruined by a careless rip, saunter gracefully into the just-about ready-to-be-closed auditorium, climb mid-way to the top of the stadium-seat of your choice, put the drink in the cup holder, balance the nachos as you put your rain coat on the open seat next to you, and snuggle down in that deep rocking chair as you eagerly await the end of the advertisements and trivia slides and get to the most important part of the ritual—watching the sneak previews. Well, strictly as entertainment/great movie-going material, I would say that Syriana falls quite a bit short. Rather, it would fulfill and satisfy on those days when you think, “I know, I would like to spend the afternoon watching the 60 Minutes Marathon on C-Span.” Or, I know, “I’ll go check and see if my college son’s history professor is any good and watch today’s lecture with my kid.” Now, in all fairness, this is partially because the movie is suggested by the events (though the credits emphasize that nothing in the movie is true) in Robert Baer’s book See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism. Given this, you might not expect a Tom Clancy thriller. And, that would be good because this is not. To keep the movie straight in your mind, it’s not a bad idea to bring a legal pad. Then you can make a concept map for the film as it goes along interconnecting the characters in what ultimately will become a very complicated web. There are really four main, highly interrelated story lines: Bob Barnes (George Clooney)—CIA agent/govt operative discovers the hard way that his umpteen-year career working for the government in the service of his country on assignments to bring stability to the Middle East has been about a lot more than he ever knew; Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon)—economic analyst for a Swiss energy trading and consulting firm meets an Arab leader, Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (Alexander Siddig), who really wants to make a difference for his people and learns how hard the US government and the American Oil Industry will work to make sure that never happens; attorney Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) is hired by one of two merging oil companies to find dirty laundry that would prevent the US government from approving the merger and in the process finds a lot more than he bargained for especially about his own ability to stay on high moral grounds; and a young Pakistani migrant oil field worker, Wasim Ahmed Khan (Mazhar Munir), who finds himself without a job with the soon-to-be-merged oil companies when Prince Nasir awards the new pipeline job to a Chinese company. Each of these four men will face extreme tests of character and have to make some devastating decisions and endure harsh trauma. Each will learn the price one has to pay to stand for what is right. It is, in fact, a curious predicament, irony triple grande with a double caf, that one should have to give so much, pay such a high price, live with terrible consequences to do the right thing, or in the case of Wasim, the thing you have been programmed to believe is the right thing. But, stop and think about Wasim. When rendered jobless by foreign powers and governments, he turns to a group that will feed him, value him, and ultimately give his life meaning. That purpose is to become something no human being should ever have to become. On the one hand, there is no way not to feel sorry for him, and on the other hand there is no way not to see shades of similarity in the other characters who, each in his own way, has been indoctrinated to execute the plans of his government. In any case, these four story lines, each with its own pros and cons, are all very interesting. The acting done by these four actors and all of the dozens of other smaller roles from the oil tycoons to the wives of the men who wreak the havoc on the world, is all first rate. Filming, locations, the writing are all top notch. Stephen Gaghan actually did a brilliant job in directing this film; and, keeping it all straight in his mind, I cannot imagine to have been an easy task. So, strategically, from a filmmaking point of view, this movie is superb. So, when I wrote that Syriana is not a Tom Clancy-type thriller, rather it would be more fulfilling for people who get up every Sunday religiously to watch “Meet the Press”, I did not mean to imply that this isn’t a good movie. It is a good movie. And, it has a good message—when you stop and sit down to figure out what the message is. However, it is a difficult movie to watch on many levels mostly stemming from the fact that people that want to keep their head buried very deeply in the sand and say, “Look, as long as I go to work each day, do my job, pay my taxes, provide for my family, and vote in the presidential elections based on reading the Sunday paper the weekend before, I am being a good and loyal citizen,” it’s time to wake up from that dream. Sadly, my feeling is that most people in the USA do not really want to wake up. Some because they fear the worst. Some because they are too tired. Some because they really don’t care. And some because they just don’t know any better. Theoretically, we have more control and say over our democratic government than most of the rest of the people on the planet save the Canadians, French, British, Australians, Germans, and New Zealanders. Yet, what do we do with it? Yes, what DO we do with that say? We pretty much sit back and let events unfold and after the fact we might have an opinion or two, or we might chose instead just not to think about it.
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Syriana (Widescreen Version) [DVD](2005) DVD
Syriana [DVD](2005) DVD
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