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"Just because George Clooney and Matt Damon are in it, don't expect this to be Ocean's Eleven III (Ocean's Thirteen)."










The Masked Reviewer

It's nice to see a movie that doesn't have a title that's too long.  At only seven letters in legth, Syriana will be a welcome change to those poor people who have to climb up on ladders and hang letters at the older theaters.  Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Pirates of the Carribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl...enough already!  It's bad enough that films are on the verge of breaking the three-hour barrier in shouldn't take twenty seconds to say the title of the film.  We need more movies like Saw and Pi and A.I....well, okay, no one needs more movies like A.I.

You might think this is an irrelevant point, but it all ties in (brilliantly) with one of the themes of Syriana -- conservation.  Whether it be oil or letters in movie titles, we should all do our part to conserve.

Syriana is an unusual film.  It will undoubtedly find two audiences: those who hate it, and those who think it's important.  Unfortunately, not a lot of people will fully understand it.

Directed and written by Steven Gaghan (the writer of Traffic), the film looks at the world of oil, government, espionage, corruption, and political intrigue.  Seem like a lot?  It is.  It stars George Clooney (who you may remember from "E.R."), Matt Damon (who you may remember from Good Will Hunting), Amanda Peet (who you may remember as being topless in The Whole Nine Yards), Jeffrey Wright (who you probably remember from something else, but the Masked Reviewer remembers as playing a thug in Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson), Chris Cooper (who you may remember from Adaptation or Seabiscuit), and Alexander Siddig (who you may remember from "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", but if you do, you probably call it "DS9", and probably also know that his mother's brother is Malcolm McDowell).  The film also stars Christopher Plummer (who you may also remember from The Sound of Music, but if you knew who Alexander Siddig was, you probably know Christopher Plummer better as General Chang, the Klingon commander in Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country, which is a pretty long title, too).

That's a lot of people, isn't it?  Kind of confusing, huh?  Well, for some people, it'll be a bit much to keep track of.  Just because George Clooney and Matt Damon are in it, don't expect this to be Ocean's Eleven III (Ocean's Thirteen).  It isn't an action flick or a romantic comedy.  It stacks up in some ways to Traffic.  It's also similar to The Contender in some ways.  The movie has well-formed characters and a plot, but it's not a typical movie plot -- it's less about going from point A to point B, hitting the climax, and the film is over.  It's more about showing realistic characters in an intriguing setting, but while there is a beginning, middle and end, it's not so much about that.

If you're a big fan of President Bush, you probably won't like the film.  It doesn't show the US in the best light, and the ideology that America is only involved in altruistic efforts abroad (commonly supported by supporters of President Bush) is challenged heavily in the film.  Similarly, if you hate President Bush, you might think the film is a harsh criticism of him and his administration.  However, the film isn't political in that way.  International politics and the oil business aren't simple things, after all.  The issues raised in the film shouldn't be thought of as being a reflection on just the current US President, but rather of US policy for years.  If anything, it's anti-oil company, as they are shown as ruthless capitalists, with the US government aiding and abetting them.  The Masked Reviewer is abetting that this film will get some people upset.

The most likely candidate for raising people's ire (and one of the more interesting aspects of the film) is that a terrorist is shown as a human being.  Part of the film is dedicated to showing how the US and oil companies help to foster an atmosphere that promotes terrorism, but rather than show a terrorist as a towel-wearing monster, blind with rage and ululating like a madman, his recruitment and indoctrination process is shown.  It's not depicted as brainwashing.  The people that create the terrorist aren't shown as evilly manipulative.  They're shown much like a recruiter for the US Army...join us because it's right.  Fight the bad guys.  Help make the world a better place. 

It won't be popular with a lot of people, and will stir up a lot of controversy.  But, it's good controversy.  It's the sort of thing that everyone should think about...whether you disagree with the assertions of the film or not, the most important and thought provoking parts deal with showing the terrorists as human beings, as opposed to evil automatons.  Very few people (much less entire nations) are motivated by pure evil.  Sure, there are evil nut-jobs that influence people to their will, and their motivations may not be good, but they may see the US involvement as something less than benevolent, too. 

If you think this is all wrong, and that everyone in the world is either a good guy or a bad guy, it's worth seeing the film.  You may ultimately disagree with it, but it's worth thinking about.  Similarly, if you think the US is wrong on everything and a would-be empire in the making, Syriana is worth seeing because, again, things aren't black and white. 

All that being said, the film will be too much to follow for many viewers.  A lot of information is implied, and you really have to pay close attention to fully understand the relationships between all of the characters.  Because of this and the political elements (and the two-hour run time), Syriana will probably not be very successful, which is too bad.  It's well acted and filled with interesting, thought-provoking stuff, but many people are so sensitive about their political leanings (one way or another) that they won't want to see something like this. 

The acting is very good, the writing is very good, but the direction leaves something to be desired -- it could have been put together better to make everything more clear.  That would've helped.

So, overall, if you want a "something to think about" flick, this is the one.


Expectation from the Title: When two middle-eastern countries fall in love, their love-child country is scorned by the other countries.  Syria and Iran must hide their child from the evil Luxemburg, who wants to see her destroyed!

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  George Clooney looks very wise with a beard.

The Pros: Thought-provoking, good performances, interesting.

The Cons: A lot to digest, confusing relationships between characters at times, the political elements will turn off a lot of people.

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Copyright 2003, Michael D. Lynn