' ' Cinema Romantico: Syriana

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Watching “Syriana” I was reminded of a mantra I keep during my own screenwriting travails – The Personal is Political. Personally speaking, I don’t like overtly political films. "Syriana" is overtly political. I suppose it succeeds it at being a political statement but it's supposed to be a movie, remember?

The writer/director of “Syriana” is Stephen Gaghan, who also wrote the Academy Award winning script for "Traffic". "Traffic" was an episodic film with mutliple storylines as was "Havoc" - the film he wrote and executive produced earlier this year. Judging by his last two projects he really needs to try his hand at a good old fashioned chamber piece.

At the start we find there may or may not be a merger between two American oil companies. A lawyer is charged with investigating the merger. And Matt Damon works for a some sort of energy company. He is trying to cut a deal with a Saudi Arabian Prince.........I think. And George Clooney is disowned by the CIA............for some reason. But then he goes vigilante..............and, oh, I don't know. I couldn't keep it all straight. I was really trying to, I swear, but this is one of the most complex, weirdly structured movies I've ever seen.

The movie also tries at various points to humanize its characters. The lawyer has a father who's an alcoholic. Matt Damon loses his son. George Clooney has gained 40 pounds. I'm not certain but I'm pretty sure he gained it solely as a way of providing his character some "depth". See, there just isn't any depth. Why do I care what any of these characters are doing? Because America and oil companies are evil?

In "Traffic" Gaghan understood that Personal is Political. Michael Douglas was America's drug czar but the primary story concern had to do with his daughter. Benicio Del Toro was caught up in a war between Mexican drug cartels but the primary story concern had to do with him trying to save his partner. The human elements overshadowed all the political drama. But here it's the other way around.

One of the dozens of "primary" characters was an Arab who through a series of scenes I barely remember winds up taking on a suicide mission in the name of faith. And as this Arab's moment of reckoning came to pass, all I could think during what should have been a horrifically gripping scene was, "Who's this guy, again?"

And now, re-reading my review, I'm not even sure if it makes any sense. It seems confusing. Perhaps you're confused, too. Good. I hope you are. Now you know how I felt while watching "Syriana".

1 comment:

Wretched Genius said...

Gaghan already tried to direct a linear movie, "Abandon." Now, I know you're a Katie Holmes fan, but you have to admit that "Abandon" was a piece of crap. Perhaps he's better off making episodic political epics, no matter how confusing they are. Oliver Stone is still considered a master, and he hasn't made a coherant film in a decade.

Also, give Gaghan a little credit for getting Anne Hatheway to shed her clothes in "Havoc." That was a dream I'd always wanted fulfilled, and he made it come true.