Pulse of the Twin Cities Login
If you do not have an account yet
Twin Town High (vol. 8)
Syriana: Missed Opportunity
Wednesday 04 January @ 16:06:06
by Paul BachLeitner
“Syriana” opens with the accented beauty of the Muslim call to prayer and a sunrise over a gray, twilit desert in the Persian Gulf. A few hundred miles away a bearded George Clooney sells Stinger missiles at an illicit party in Tehran, while Matt Damon talks about Cheerios and breakfast food with his film wife, Amanda Peet, a few thousand miles away in Geneva. What do these scenes have in common? Very little, until “Syriana” has orbited the globe more times than NASA and it’s too late to care.
word “disappointment” is hardly adequate to capture the breadth
of squandered opportunity. “Syriana” packs so much acting talent
that Academy Award winners Chris Cooper and William Hurt and the Oscar-worthy
Christopher Plummer each appear in supporting roles that occupy no more than
20 minutes of film combined.
The premise explores the conflict between Middle Eastern oil, America’s
corporate and military might, terrorism, and Islam. Could this premise be more
topically relevant? It’s a rare occasion to fill a theater with corduroy-jacketed
poli-sci professors sitting elbow-to-elbow with pimple-faced Xbox teenagers.
Hollywood bean counters are happy, and critics have one less slot to worry about
for their year-end top-ten lists.
The problem is “Syriana” director and writer Steve Gaghan got too
excited by the possibilities and forgot to develop a coherent story. But he
develops plenty of backstory.
unnamed Persian Gulf kingdom (which is not apparently named “Syriana”)
has decided to end the oil-drilling rights of a Texas energy giant, Connex,
and instead award them to the Chinese. The loss prompts Connex to pursue a merger
with Killen (names thinly veiled guises for corruption), a smaller Texas oil
company that has inscrutably won drilling rights in Kazakhstan. These events
unfortunately occur off-screen and enter the plot through clever but complicated
Five different plot lines hop back and forth across the Atlantic, Mediterranean
and the Persian Gulf within the first ten minutes. Before it’s clear whether
Matt Damon plays a TV economic correspondent or a CIA spook he’s left
Geneva for coastal Spain and then jets off to the unnamed Persian Gulf kingdom
to become a financial and political consultant to Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig),
next in line for the throne.
Clooney is certainly a CIA spook, and a lifer at that. After the Tehran deal
he accepts one last assignment in Beirut in hopes of gaining a desk job in the
Pentagon and quality time with his estranged college-aged son who knows and
despises that his dad is a black ops spy. Clooney’s plot line bears no
relation to Damon’s, except that both men’s careers undermine their
most engaging plot line involves Jeffrey Wright (remarkably brilliant opposite
Bill Murray this past summer in “Broken Flowers”) as an African
American attorney in a law firm assigned by the Department of Justice to investigate
the merger between Connex and Killen. It’s a career-making opportunity.
In wire-rimmed glasses and with terse, reserved diction, Wright illuminates
the Yale-educated lawyer’s struggle to balance his ambition against the
need to maintain a moral center and cope with an alcoholic father. A glance
at Wright’s sweating brow reveals how hard his character has worked to
obtain this opportunity and the knowledge that racial politics could prevent
him from earning another.
To Gaghan’s credit, he deftly avoids the melodramatic overtures inherent
to each plot line with gritty, realistic camera work and a sober script. The
camera never shies away from Clooney’s paunchy torso and mangy, graying
hair. Damon’s cell phone conversations wonder about arrows on Arab hotel
ceilings that point the way to Mecca. By and large, most scenes look as if they
could’ve actually happened.
Gaghan’s sobriety also leads the film into banal pitfalls. A torturer
tells viewers that two-thirds of Iran’s population is under age 30. Prince
Nasir becomes a speaking text book while describing how his kingdom’s
oil money should be reinvested in its infrastructure to keep the economy strong
once the wells dry up. These facts are interesting, but they’re Gaghan’s
regurgitated research and not the characters’ voices.
Maybe Gaghan was trying to be too comprehensive. Two other plot lines follow
events from Middle Easterners’ perspective. The dialogue of approximately
a fifth of the film is printed in subtitles. One plot line involves Prince Nasir
and his conniving younger brother; the other tracks the downward spiral of a
Pakistani father and son who struggle for work in Nasir’s kingdom after
they lose their jobs in the oil wells. These are perspectives that do not often
surface in Hollywood suspense films, even if “Syriana” muddles their
portrayal with its other plot lines.
surely cannot be faulted for his aspirations to capture timely geo-political
concerns from a variety of perspectives. His respect for the these concerns’
complexity emerges with an attention to detail evident in the grime on the cheap
siding of trailers that house the Pakistani immigrant workers or the nuances
of covert relationships between the CIA and Hezbollah in Beirut.
But there are too many concerns for a feature film to fully detail. Focusing
on any one or two of the plot lines could have developed the characters and
the situational constraints in the depth needed for a coherent story to materialize.
Gaghan could’ve eliminated every plot element but those focusing on the
political-corporate oil grab and at least emerged with an engaging action film.
In lieu of coherence the film’s five scattered, sprawling plot lines progress
at a snail’s pace, despite Gaghan’s quick-cut edits and strategic
use of a suspenseful soundtrack. There is simply no story. It’s a slow-boiling
"Syriana" is coming soon to a theater
The comments are owned by the poster. We are not responsible for its content.
NO comments yet! Be the first!