� The Truth about Kwanzaa Attackers | Main | Going To Ravenholm �

January 01, 2006


I had a chance to go Arclight yesterday in the rain. The destination was Syriana.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable flick. At once I very much enjoyed it and was afraid of it. Films such as this tend to remind me of my distance from the level of success I think I should be having, and yet at the same time remind me of the very real costs of stepping up to that threshhold. Watching it brought me back a year to when I was in negotiations to do a big deal. You get in the face of someone powerful and you don't mince words, and suddenly you're enmeshed in big things you can only see a very small part of. It's exhilirating and dangerous. This is the real world, where people are decieved, derailed, destroyed.

As a propaganda film, which it may or may not be, there's a certain sense of 'so what' in it for me. Such intrigues as this are hardly surprising. But it was nicely done in that it blended a good number of memorable characters into a mix that gave a much broader view than is ordinarily done with a single character's narrative. As filmmaking it works extraordinarily well, and I would hope to see more of this kind of film in the future. It reminded me very much of the huge novel I once attempted where people of all sorts of ambitions wind up on a collision course.

What Syriana does better than any film I can remember is puts the actions and influence of the CIA in what appears to me to be a very good perspective. Rather than an all powerful agency capable of infiltrating and turning around governments with master spies, it shows how their own internal politics put them at odds with themselves. Even though I am a big fan of espionage fiction, this is a welcome change. There are powerful multinationals involved, there are powerful lawfirms involved, there are powerful government agencies involved. These dances are more than tangos, they are political waltzes with multiple and sometimes unknown partners.

The money scene in which the defending attorney played with muted sophistication by Jeffery Wright is lambasted as a naif struck me as a bit over the top. 'Corruption is why we win', is certainly plausible, but the reason why Syriana works is because who knows what and when is also a thing that's always in play. People decide between shades of grey all the time. It's not about what's true, it's about what can be proven as true. The truth itself, serves no one and is all but impossible to pin down. There are only facts - ie those things people and paper and computers remember as facts, and big ideas. Satisfying big appetites, the appetites of executives, law partners, congressmen, agency hierarchs, families, the public, the religious impulse; this is the subtext of Syriana. Nothing is as clean as we wish it could be.

And so it comes as no surprise that even as America could be seen to be portrayed as the bad guy, it makes perfect sense that such matters occur as they do. You ride the horse in your stable, you love the ones you're with. Anyone can be a good man, but you can't always know whose good man you are, and you can't always know at what moment or for what reasons you become most expendable, or most valuable.

This particular lesson, while made clear by the film, is not exploited for maximum dramatic value by a thematic opposition between radical Islam and Western capitalism. In fact, while we have probably seen the most fully fleshed out Arabs and Pakistanis in the history of American film, one cannot say with any specificity what their gripe with the West might be. The imam who weighs against the separation of church and state pontificates in abstracts and the specifics of young Pakistani man are lost. But perhaps that is part of the point the film wishes to make - that only in conflict are the differences and distances between Islam and the West best illustrated. The plot does not flesh out those themes and instead sticks, more or less, to plot.

As twisty plots go, Syriana's is not too bad, but folks who don't think in the fahion that Soderberg films might have some serious difficulties in following the story. This is the most up-to-date mode of storytelling. Multiple perspectives, multiple characters, hidden motives, gigantic piles of unassimilatable facts, changine allegiances, public interpreteations. In that Syriana captures this mind boggling array of complexities is a tribute to the medium of film itself. I could watch these kinds of movies all day and never get bored. I hope that more of this style are made.

Posted by mbowen at January 1, 2006 11:37 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry: