Archive for the ‘jeffrey wright’ tag
I don’t write many film reviews on this site because most have limited or no real-world relevance. Some of my favorite movies, like “Agora” and “Doubt,” tend to be those that have something to say beyond the rudimentary goal of presenting an entertaining plot and compelling acting.
The 2005 film, “Syriana,” seems to have so much to say that it becomes a bit difficult to digest it all on a first viewing. The movie is a geopolitical drama that explores, through numerous subplots, the economic and political implications behind the global dependence on oil in the Middle East and the often devious risks that oil companies and governments take in securing a share of oil resources in Asia and the Middle East.
The plot generally centers around two characters, veteran CIA officer, Bob Barnes (George Clooney), and energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), whose paths largely take different routes through much of the movie until the final scene.
Barnes, who is known for his operations in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War in the mid-1980s, is in Tehran, Iran, at the beginning of the film attempting to thwart illegal arms trafficking by killing a pair of arms dealers. While there, he witnesses piece of weaponry being diverted to an Egyptian source. After a brief stint back in Washington, he is again sent to the Middle East with the purpose of assassinating Prince Nassir, who was believed to be behind an arms deal with Egypt. We later learn, however, that Nassir, unlike his younger brother and father, is a reform-minded leader who hopes to bring wealth to his country and the Middle East at large by selling oil to China and funneling an oil pipeline directly from the Middle East to Europe. Woodman becomes Nassir’s top economic adviser in these endeavors after advising Nassir begin thinking about such a pipeline.
Nassir’s father and brother, in contrast, toe a friendly line with the United States government, while Nassir’s goals run counter to American interests, with the implicit message that it’s in America’s interest to keep parts of the Middle East poor, uneducated and undeveloped so that the we can remain the control of oil reserves, not the other way around, thus Barnes’ initial mission to kill Nassir.
The other major plot line involves a shady merger of American oil companies Connex and a smaller organization, Killen, the latter of which surprisingly secures a major deal to drill in Kazakhstan. Bennett Holiday, an attorney with a Washington law firm, is charged with smoothing out the merger and giving the appearance of due diligence in the process. Meanwhile, Holiday is certain that a Killen officially committed bribery in securing the oil deal.
One of the main subplots follows the family life of Woodman, whose young son is killed while visiting Nassir’s family at their resort in Spain. Woodman’s son jumped into a pool of electrically charged water prior to a faulty pool light being discovered. This, along with Woodman’s globe-jumping travels, puts a strain on his relationship with his wife.
Another minor plot traces the life of a young Middle Eastern worker and his father, both of whom are laid off when Connex is outbid by a Chinese company for drilling rights in the region. Nassir, as we later learn, was behind China winning the bid, rather than Connex, and it’s here that we see the clash between American interests and Nassir’s desire to see a prosperous and developed Middle East.
Yet another plot follows Barnes and the torn relationship between his wife, who also works overseas, and his son, who calls both his father and mother “professional liars” because of the “classified” nature of their jobs.
That’s all I will divulge of the plot. Needless to say, these elements come to a dramatic conclusion in the final scene.
Superb acting carries the film, from Clooney and Damon, down through the supporting cast. Clooney was particularly at the top of his game during one torture scene in which a character named Mussawi attempts to get information from Clooney by pulling out his fingernails one-by-one. I can imagine it takes a large measure of acting acumen to make a moviegoer wince when the actor himself is likely in little if any real pain, yet fains immense suffering.
I also enjoyed the camera work. At times, the view is a touch jittery, which gives a grittier impression that the camera man is actually holding the camera, and this also puts the viewer right in the middle of the dialog and on-screen action. For instance, in an elevator scene in which Clooney was supposed to have Nassir assassinated (He is kidnapped by Mussawi’s men instead), Clooney gets on an elevator, which also holds Nassir and Damon. The camera is looking at the back of Clooney’s head and the image of his face is reflected back through the elevator door. This, of course, gives the effect that the movie viewer is actually in the elevator. I think that added a nice effect.
Finally, that the director followed closely the individual lives of the main and secondary characters so closely certainly supplies a personal element. It makes the statement that, not only does the subject matter have huge implications for the U.S., the Middle East and the world, but that real people are and will be affected by the decisions of men of power. Thus, monolithic institutions like oil companies and governments stand in sharp contrast to the individual lives they implicate.
The nature of the plot makes the movie a touch hard to fully follow on a first viewing and becomes more concrete on a second watch, but I don’t think the complicated plot is a drawback. Life is complicated, all the more the functions and duties of giant corporations and governments. This movie vividly captures the complexities and ethical implications pregnant, not just in capitalism itself, but in attempts to bring largely undeveloped nations into a more modern era whilst sometimes being left behind in the power grab for their resources.