Sunday, March 12, 2006
I had missed George Clooney's "Good Night and Good Luck" but luckily I was able to catch Stephen Gaghan's "Syriana" for which Clooney won the Best Supporting Actor Award at this year's Oscars, and proclaimed from the stage, "Thank God, we are so out of touch."
Thank God there are still Hollywood actors and filmmakers like Clooney who stay out of touch with the times and make films like Syriana.
Of course, I had seen the movie before the Oscars. Brokeback Mountain had to wait. Syriana was serios business.
Stephen Gaghan (winner of the Best Screenplay Academy Award for Traffic) presents a tightly woven political thriller, weaving together many personal stories into a jigsaw-puzzle sort of narrative structure, that unfolds against the intrigue of the global oil industry. There are four basic stories here. CIA operative (George Clooney) faces his own people turned against him, young oil broker (Matt Damon) falls prey to a family tragedy and becomes advisor to an idealistic Gulf prince (Prince Nair Al-Subaani played by Alexander Siddig). Corporate lawyer Jeffrey Wright "faces a moral dilemma as he finesses the questionable merger of two powerful U.S. oil companies," while in Persian Gulf, a disenfranchised Pakistani teenager (Mazhar Munir) gets brainwashed and becomes a suicide bomber. All the four stories come together to a powerful and literally explosive climax.
I especially liked the Prince Nair Al-Subaani's character who represents the forward-looking face of the Arab world but is decimated by the powerful Oil lobby. The question that comes to the viewer's mind is: Is oil wealth and democracy incompatible and if yes, then why? I guess the answer lies more in Washington than in the Gulf region. The film is highly recommended.
But is Clooney trying to scare the public by making such films? Christopher Dickey writing in The Newsweek thinks so. His essay "Age of Anxiety" on this theme is quite interesting. On Syriana he has this to say:
""Syriana," so self-consciously obscure that even I had trouble following it, is entirely a work of fiction. Never mind the titles that say it's based on the 2002 memoir, "See No Evil" (Crown), by former CIA agent Robert Baer. The intrigues surrounding Clooney's character take place in a fictional emirate that might be Saudi Arabia, but has a history a little like Qatar and a landscape that is, quite literally, Dubai, where much of it was filmed. Yet it's not about any of those places, in fact. It's about the United States, and it's the style that's important, not the substance. "Syriana" feels like many a spy film from the 1970s, when Watergate and Senate investigations into the American intelligence establishment created a pervasive sense that government was out to defend itself regardless of the cost to American civil liberties, human rights and common sense."
Some quotable quotes from Syriana:
"In this town, you're innocent until you're investigated."
On the Arab world: "You want to know what the business world thinks of you? We think a hundred years ago you were living out here in tents in the desert chopping each others heads off, and that's exactly where you're gonna be in another hundred. So yes, on behalf of my firm, I accept your money."
On Corruption: "Corruption ain't nothing more than government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulation. That's Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption is what keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around here instead of fighting each other for scraps of meat out in the streets. Corruption is why we win."