Monday, October 09, 2006



Dir: Stephen Gaghan (Abandon)

Paul makes a Godfather II comparison to this film in his previous review. I cannot be sure that his suggestion did not bury itself in my mind when I read that in December, but it was nice to find that I was thinking the same thing when watching Syriana.

I probably think that Syriana does not get as close to that work of genius than either Paul or Ron do, however. The subject matter is essential, the acting (especially Clooney, Damon less so) is solid, and the script is both complicated yet understandable. But in the end, I think the thematic approach of the script is a little too easy. Corporations are corrupt is such a trite message that it wears thin on me; children's movies routinely feature the meme! Yes, it is true, and yes, there are lots of people who do not quite get it. But in terms of my personal aesthetic and persuasive experience with a political movie, I want a little more analysis than just "oil men will do whatever it takes to get money."

Much more interesting than that was the examination of the Arab side of the equation. The internal power stuggles between the reform minded, forward looking brother and the cautious, conservative, and religiously minded heir apparent did much to add nuance to what is so often seen as a monolithic culture. The public relations angles, the brief scenes of the regular citizens of the country, the tension between traditional values like the unquestioned authority of the father and the needs to adapt (economically and politically and socially) to wealth and Westernization were well thought out and engaging.

Less engaging by far were the limp attempts to bring all of these machinations home to the families of the American pawns. The crying wife and the disaffected children are mechanical, formulaic, and in this case poorly done (I never liked Amanda Peet anyway). Add to that what I found to be the gratuitous child death scene, mere shock in a bid for emotional impact, and I just was not moved. Here is a screenwriting tip: if you kill a child and I don't even know their name, let alone anything about them, that is gratuitous. It's a bid to generate sympathy for Matt Damon through the instrumentality of a kid's drowning. It is both lazy and manipulative.

And that is why Syriana has good parts but gets nowhere near Godfather II. In that piece of genius, the family struggles are just as compelling, just as lovingly crafted and intricate as the almost impossibly complicated political themes. Almost impossibly, because there is a difference between smarter-than-me and confused. There is also a difference between moving and shocking. Godfather II is the former on both counts; Syriana has too much simplicity and not enough heart to rise that far.



Anonymous Anonymous noted on 10/11/2006 11:06:00 PM that...

As an avid reader of this blog, (I'm a fellow grad-student of Paul's), and a budding screenwriter, I can't help but see the vanity of Stephen Gaghan and Clooney in their beloved piece - SYRIANA. They set out to make something that would generate Oscar-buzz in the 'Hollywood circuit', and low and behold, they succeeded.

The original screenplay for Syriana was 284 pages long, and from what I've seen, just as incoherent and pointless. To add, Gaghan's overuse of the 'middle-eastern' angle to the story was terrible.

What's more, it was factually very very incorrect. They had the middle-easterners talking in dialects used only in northern India (Hindi) as opposed to arabic or at-least an urdu based hindi.

As someone who's lived in almost all the regions depicted in the movie, it fails miserably at most portrayals...

SYRIANA in my eyes was a miserable failure - in it's inauthentic presentations... in the plot being overzealous (trying to play obscurity for depth)... and in ending up as nothing more than a vehicle to get CLOONEY that elusive golden statuette.  

Blogger paroske noted on 10/12/2006 10:12:00 PM that...

Hey, nameless freind of Paul. And don't they all prefer to remain nameless.

The factual arguments are one thing. I am not in a position to know. If they are outright lies, then that is condemnatory. If they are plot points designed to make a broader argument or facilitate comprehension, then that is OK. Dialect choice is not the sort of thing I will use to reject wholesale a film.

As far as arrogance, sure it probably a lot about Oscar. But you are going to punt out 3/4 of all the good films made in the USA by that criteria. What, Crash and Brokeback Mountain weren't about awards either?

I'll say that Clooney/Gaghan tried to make a great movie that told a point they wanted to get across, and make some money and win some awards at the same time.

Sounds OK to me.


Blogger Damien noted on 10/30/2006 10:50:00 PM that...

Any viewing of _Syriana_ is greatly enriched by a careful reading of Abdelrahman Munif's _Cities of Salt_; the not-so-thinly-veiled allegory of U.S. oil colonization of Saudi Arabia. As a piece of literature, it is simply stunning, with the same sort of genealogical tracing that marks _Syriana_.

Find it at:  

Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 11/04/2006 08:48:00 PM that...

Dude is that that crappy story you made us read against the Fort?