Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Syriana: Most Disturbing, 2005 (Stephen Gaghan, Writer and Director)
Syriana is the best example of a recent trend: fact presented as fiction. As Richard Clarke said recently on The Daily Show about his book The Scorpion's Gate, "People find the truth easier to digest when it is presented as fiction [or words to that effect]". Syriana is fiction, but it feels like the real deal...and left me feeling disturbed and distressed.

Syriana opens with a silent blue-washed scene of men waiting for a work bus in a dust storm. When the bus arrives, there isn't enough room for everyone, and the men begin to push, their raised voices carried away by the wind. A single hammer held stiffly by the side of a leg suggests the possibility of sudden violence. This is the middle east.

Despite what you might think from the presence of George Clooney and Matt Damon in the trailer, this is a movie without stars—we follow the story of several characters, but there is no one main player. Each character has their moment, but which of these are connected? At first, it's difficult to tell, and you have to pay attention to follow what's going on. Supporting actors, (including the film's only two female characters of any consequence), make the most of their moments with pitch-perfect performances. Take note—pee before you go see this one, and don't go out for more popcorn, like the idiots next to us who kept slogging back and forth all through the movie to acquire more and more food, and who then left a tidal wave of garbage for the ushers to clean up. Assholes.

Syriana is a assembled from a series of seemingly unrelated moments strung together in a way that feels disconnected and random. An idealistic lawyer loses his religion; a corporate golden boy spits vitriol as he uses the accidental death of his son to close a deal with an oil-rich prince. A young Pakistani, stuck in a nameless gulf coast country with no job and no prospects is entranced by a charismatic mullah with stories of glory in heaven and protection for family here on earth. In a painful scene, we see his video will outlining what he wants done with his body; his final act a blaze of light which leaves no doubt there won't be a body to bury. This is a world of men, where both the powerful and the weak are helpless—their prospects are equally uncertain and liable to change without warning.

I don't know how much of Syriana is true, but I suspect all of it is. We know that the Bush administration currently has teams looking for ways to go to war with Syrian and Iran. We know that the big meta-national companies really are running things, and that governments are being used to further corporate expansion and to pad the bank accounts of a handful of powerful families, both here and in the middle east. God, I feel ill.

My recommendation? See this movie, but don't expect the standard plot with a "problem, resolution, happy ending" format. This movie will not spoon feed you. And on that note:

Snack foods: None. This type of movie you want to discuss with your friends afterwards over some sort of great ethnic food, save your money for that. And please, if you must have popcorn, don't be jerks and leave garbage for the theater staff, 'cause that's just rude, and you don't want to get on my bad side. I will hunt you down.


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