Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Don't Take Syriana Seriously

Finally got around to seeing Syriana, which has been getting raves reviews around the country, and I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed. This ensemble piece is meant to be an exploration into the state of affairs of the world's oil industry, and was made by the producers and writer of Traffic, an ensemble piece meant to be an exploration into the state of affairs of the world's illegal drug trade.

There has been some political back and forth about whether Syriana is an indictment of the Bush administration and its supposedly cozy relationship with Big Oil Money. In fact, the movie doesn't really point a finger at Republicans or Democrats in specific. Instead we are treated to a two hour finger-wagging at the Washington establishment in general and how it has let the current situation in the Middle East spin out of control through high-powered industry lobbying, myopic foreign policy decisions, and good old fashioned American greed. Liberals will want to believe that these are all faults of Republican-led administrations exclusively, but, as George Clooney's character says in the movie, the reality is a lot more complex. Or at least the movie's convoluted plot(s) are a lot more complex.

The showcasing of big name Hollywood talent running around spouting off Machiavellian diatribes about wars for oil and rich Arab princes exploiting their people gets a little old without any real character development. We're dealing with a stock cast here, and their motives from one scene to the next are painfully predictable. The disillusioned young Arab oil worker who loses his job and evolves into a suicide bomber; the naive American industry analyst who teams up with an Arab prince who wants to bring reform to his people; the dull, brilliant lawyer piecing together the machinations of a merger between two oil industry behemoths; and the CIA field operative fighting the one-step-forward-two-steps-back war in the Arab Street.

People have been saying that George Clooney's performance is remarkable. I don't know about that. I do know that any time one of Hollywood's beautiful people puts on weight, grows a beard, gets "ugly" or plays a mental midget, their talkin' Oscar. Never fails. But Clooney's character and storyline was frankly the only one worth paying attention to in the film. It had action and a bit of intrigue. The rest of the film feels like a Steven Soderbergh-directed episode of 60 Minutes, engaging in a lot of shop worn stereotypes and conspiracy theories about big bad oil and rich white men. And that's a drag. If it got beyond that, Syriana might have been a half-way decent movie.

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