Syriana Movie Review
Stephen Gaghan, in only his second directorial outing, has created an Oscar-potential film, if only due to the subject matter. The writer of "Traffic," the Oscar winner that was nominated for Best Picture back in 2000, Gaghan shows he has a knack for writing edgy material - but pales in comparison to Steven Soderbergh when it comes to creating the perfect film.
"Syriana," based on true events, explores the oil industry and how it is in America's best interest to keep the Middle East poor, at war and spending themselves out of existence. There is no question that the Middle East is the most troubled region in the world, but despite all the dictators and warlords that we Americans see plastered over the news all the time, how much of the chaos is a direct result of America's involvement?
The film stars first and foremost George Clooney, a CIA spy who, after years of work still appears to have some idealism left in him. Unfortunately for him, the CIA wants to hear nothing of it and they essentially turn their back on him, forcing him to take matters into his own hands. Then there's Matt Damon, who plays an energy consultant who strikes up a lucrative deal with a liberal prince, played superbly by Alexander Siddig, despite the price he pays at home with his wife and children. Chris Cooper and Christpher Plummer play oil men, while Jeffrey Wright plays an oil censor who is starting to get the taste of corruption.
"Syriana" is a complex, confusing and downright scary film, as the dealings that go on crisscrosses in so many ways - even by the end of the film it is hard to tell who the good guys and who the bad guys are. The message is tells is frighteningly real, and in turn that makes "Syriana" captivating. The content matter is gritty and depressing, as it paints America as the bad guys (but who are we kidding?), and this makes "Syriana" a formidable competitor in the Oscar race this year. The movie is good and the Academy is predominantly liberal; movies like this can be nominated just to send a message to the current administration.
While the movie is good, it is not great - or at least it isn't perfect. There are some confusing moments, but that just makes you want to go back and see it again. It is that good. However, it is not perfect, and far from it. Gaghan, whose only other film to date was the lackluster "Abandon" back in 2002, has a long way to go before convincing me that he has what it takes to carry a movie all the way. "Syriana" has the look and feel of "Traffic," but this movie is not directed by Soderbergh and it shows. The visual flare is missing, as is the tightness and pacing that made "Traffic" so spectacular. "Traffic," and I think it is safe to compare the two films, was the same movie only about the drug trade, and while it had a powerful message to tell and was at heart a drama, it was exciting and well-paced. "Syriana," about corruption, the CIA and suicide bombers, had the potential to be even more exciting, but Gaghan keeps things a notch too slow. He uses the same music consistently through the film to create a sense of building tension, but it takes more than music to fool the audience. The movie is never slow, but you can see that Gaghan was close to making a powerful and tense film and just never quite got his finger on the trigger.
Despite falling just a little short, "Syriana" is still a good movie, one that should be shown in every classroom in America. The message it tells is scary, but it is better to be scared than to be ignorant.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.