Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed,
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed.
Then one day he was shootin’ at some food,
And up through the ground came a bubblin’ crude.
Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.
Cue the stetsons, cue the oversized shoulder pads and praise be, its Dallas all over again. Only this time there’s more deadly assassins, corrupt politicians and unscrupulous tycoons than you could ever dream of. Unless, of course, you’re Victoria Principle and you wake up to find Patrick Duffy alive and kicking and taking a shower in your bathroom.
Using a stellar cast, some nifty camerawork and Robert Baer’s book ‘See No Evil’ as inspiration, director Stephen ‘never heard of him’ Gaugan has delivered a bold and ambitious view into a world most of us would rather stay out of, depite the wads and wads of lovely lovely cash….hmmmmmmm…..MINE!!
Gaugan is most notably known for writing on the copied-to-death TV series NYPD Blue and, more recently, for winning the longest-titled Oscar award ever (for Traffic in 2001): Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.
If you liked Traffic, or indeed if you liked this year’s Oscar-winning Crash, then you will enjoy numbing your bum in front of Syriana at your local multiplex. Equal measures of ‘who the hell is this character?’ and ‘how are they all connected?’ provide us with a confusing, yet compelling, portrayal of America’s obsession with oil and the Middle East. The plot stalks the lives of five main characters, each with their own reason for wanting to bathe in the slimey oil.
Firstly, Georgey-Porgey Cloonface gets up to all kinds of mischief as an agent of the CIA. He dishes out comments like, “I want you to take him from his hotel, drug him, put him in the front of a car, and run a truck into it at 50 mph,” and, “If anything happens to me or my family, an accident, an accusation, anything, then first your son will disappear, his body will never be found. Then your wife. Her body will never be found either. This is guaranteed. Then, whatever is the most dangerous thing you do in your life, it might be flying in a small plane, it might be walking to the bank, you will be killed. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Basically, this is a man you do not want to mess with. He would eat the Mitchell brothers for dinner, probably with a nice Chianti…thf-thf-thf. Which is almost a very close estimation because old Georgey answers the age-old question that many a football fan has chanted on a Saturday afternoon up on the terracies, “Who ate all the pies?”. He bulked up by an whopping 15kgs to play the role, then turned that 15kgs into gold by picking up the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year.
Next up is Matt ‘The Boywonder’ Damon playing a broker who profits from the death of his own son. That kind of behaviour explains it all really. He becomes aide to an Arab Prince who is at loggerheads with his younger, less socially-conscious brother over the rightful heirship to their father’s throne. Never trust a Arab Prince with a posh English accent I say, you just know he’s got to be dodgy!
The other end of the money scale is represented by a young Pakistani immigrant worker who is condemned, through a culmination of desperation and religious fanaticism, to a single decisive action.
Undoubtedly, with names like Damon and Clooney scrollling down the credits, one might assume that theirs were the most significant performances in Syriana, but the olive laurel best fits the head of Jeffrey Wright. His impressive portrayal of Bennett Holiday, a corporate lawyer with the moral and testicular fortitude to play with the big boys, puts him firmly in the ‘one to watch for the future’ column of your little black book. He was also the only good thing that came out of Bill Murray’s disastrous movie, Broken Flowers.
The added appearances of Chris ‘cant say no to a job offer’ Cooper and Tim ‘goofiest of the Oh Brother Where Art Thou-s’ Blake Nelson also add to the movie’s already hefty credibility.
The complexity of the plot may seem baffling to some, and even deter others from buying a ticket at all, but that would be evading the point entirely. It is deliberately constructed to confuse, to keep the viewer in the dark, to make flimsy suggestions regarding worlds we would never fully understand.
Throughout the movie there is an impending feeling of doom, as though something terrible could happen during any scene. This is hardly surprising, however, as almost every character is as bent as a five pound note (you heard me!).
The overwhelming fear that these people must live under, constantly threatened by all kinds of nastiness, helps the story to unfold like a Shakespearean tragedy. Backstabbers circle around the scenes, all brimming with greedy madness. Yet there is no outright ‘bad guy’ here, only several individuals acting on the uncontrollable desire for monstrous amounts of power and wealth.
American-bashing; the world’s favourite sport. Syriana, by dealing with the corrupt powers of American business and the government’s questionable foreign affairs, didn’t stand a chance of cleaning up at the Oscars this year. Which is the very same reason that you should see it.
If it were a gushing fountain of black liquid gold, it would be making an awful mess of the carpet. Otherwise 8 out of 10.
And if you won’t take my word for it, here is the ultra-concise review from my temporary new best friend:
Dames – “The story unravels like a Sudoku puzzle – slightly challenging and satisfying by the end.”