the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Thursday, June 15, 2006


I write film and TV reviews at Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.

You didn't understand all of it? It went by too fast to take it all in? There was too much information to mentally digest? Yeah, well, that was kind of the point. Life's a lot like that too. This unabashedly critical look at America's gluttony for Mid-East oil and the lengths we will go to take and keep it was spellbinding if not always comprehensible. A daring and searing film that insists this country has far more blood on its hands than the news shows each night.

Oil, Writer/Director Stephen Gaghan once said, is the world's crack addiction. Seen in that context, with the convoluted and often violent lengths to which people will go to feed their addictions, Gaghan's Syriana becomes a morality play on a planetary scale. If we are addicted to oil as Gaghan suggests (and who doesn't believe him?) then how far will America go to “get its fix?” Will it posture? Will it manipulate? Will it threaten? Will it murder? The answer, according to Syriana, is a resounding, yes.

To synopsize Syriana would mean that one would first have to comprehend it. But Syriana is a film that intentionally relishes in its paradoxes, contradictions and complications. It gleefully thrives on misdirection. Some films place the audience--though obviously not the characters--one step ahead of the action. In Syriana, the audience is always one step behind. We come upon action and conversations in medius rez (in the middle of things) and have to clamor to catch up. This is more than a plot device. It is reality. Elevating obfuscation to an art-form, Syriana demands we use our own wits and not unlock the film's message by having it spoon-fed to us.

Veteran CIA field operative Bob Barnes (George Clooney hiding behind a beard, a receding hairline and about 30 extra pounds) is on his way out. A dedicated and life-long covert operative in the Middle East, Barnes has seen and participated in more than his fair share of underhanded dealings. Now nearing the end of his career, Barnes inadvertently gets drawn into a political and economic maelstrom with global ramifications.

A fictional, oil-rich emirate in the Persian Gulf announces that it will no longer cede drilling rights to the American company, Connex, but will transfer the privilege to a higher-bidding company in China. Thrown off balance by the announcement, Connex decides to merge with the smaller Killen firm (which has just acquired the drilling rights to a rich field in Kazakhstan) in the hopes that the move will shore up its sudden profit hemorrhaging. The US Department of Justice sends a lawyer, Bennett Holiday (Jeffery Wright) to ensure the merger goes through without a hitch. When he discovers rampant corruption within the ranks, Holiday must make a decision—keep quiet and allow the deal to proceed or go public with what he knows.

Meanwhile, energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) finds himself brought into the fictional emirate's circle of power after a tragedy befalls his family; and Wasim Kahn (Mazhar Munir), an impoverished Pakistani oil field worker whose job has just been outsourced to China, finds that dire consequences rear their head as a result.

What do all these characters have to do with one another? Each is a pawn in a massive, geopolitical chess game. Each possess a piece of the puzzle, but without the ability to pool their knowledge, they are as confused as the audience is.

In the end, rouges will be rewarded, princes will be toppled, good men will perish, innocence will vanish and the American public will continue pouring fuel into their giant SUVs, none the wiser.

Syriana is a fearless, ambitious and stinging criticism of the United States' appetite for energy. An Oscar winner for writing Traffic, Stephen Gaghan is not shy about making a film with real-world relevance—the ramifications of the struggle to control the planet's dwindling supply of oil by a shadowy, amoral cabal of elite Washington power brokers who pull the strings that animate the world—and a scathing critique about how America acts to protect its interests at the expense of law, morality or justice.

Syriana is a film crafted to make you think. And think. And think...

To read the full review, click here.


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