It wasn’t too many years ago that George Clooney represented some pretty boy who made slick, unassuming popcorn films. But with his directorial/acting effort for the stirring Good Night And Good Luck and now his part in the thought provoking and sure to be controversial Syriana, Clooney has elevated his work well past the pretty boy status. The film not only elevates Clooney’s acting but it elevates the political thriller genre to a level as high as an oil gusher.
In Syriana Clooney plays a CIA operative who begins to discover the truth in a the Middle East region that he has dedicated his life to. Clooney brings a surprising amount of realism to his scruffy, back room dealing, secret meetings character. But Clooney looms as only a small cog in this film that plays as big a massive oil drilling rig. Set against the backdrop of the global oil industry, the film moves as if on a giant oil slick from the royal palaces and oil fields of the Middle East, to the oil company boardrooms in Texas, to the backrooms of Washington. The film weaves multiple story lines in an effort to show the human consequences of the game known as oil. Matt Damon plays a hot shot oil broker who suffers through a family tragedy only to later find redemption with an idealistic Gulf region prince (Alexander Siddig). A disenfranchised Pakistani teenager (Mazhar Munir) falls prey to a charismatic cleric with and later carries out a powerful act. The film wouldn’t be complete without some legal shenanigans, which surround corporate lawyer (Jeffrey Wright), who must sooth the feathers of the US Attorney’s office as well as the powerful oil company presidents in deal between two mega oil companies that, of course, will benefit all US consumers.
It’s been a while since a political thriller with this much grit, guts and brains came down the oil pipe. Writer/Director Stephen Gaghan (screenwriter for Traffic) makes his directorial debut with a resolute film that’s sure to ruffle a few feathers in DC, Texas and anywhere else that bubbling crude spouts from the ground. In a style similar to Traffic, Gaghan successfully fuses the multiple story lines with synchronicity and interesting insights that few films offer. But unlike Soderburgh’s slick direction of Traffic, here Gaghan digs deeper into the crevice of the human thought process as well as into the rooms that spill dirty corruption into the streets. If people took a second look at the US drug policy after Traffic this film will certainly causes some people to think a second time while they fill there their SUVs full of that black gold. Although maybe not as controversial as JFK, or going back even further with Seven Days in May, Syriana will indeed cause people to talk. It’s no secret that oil has been at the forefront of the pages of US newspapers whether it’s due to excessive oil company profits or the lives sacrificed to obtain the black stuff so this film will only stir the flames of controversy a little higher and make them a little hotter.
Realism rules in this picture. Gaghan use of languages only adds to the authenticity whether it focuses on a pair of co-workers joking in French while an English speaking Yank looks on or a Pakistani dad scolding his son that he should learn Arabic if he wants to fit into the Middle Eastern society. A generous portion of the film uses languages to set the tone to good effect. Gaghan doesn’t just start scenes in a foreign tongue then slide into English but rather he keeps the foreign language scenes moving to not only add cosmopolitan flavor but to enhance how language effects not only corporate business but the worker bees as well.
The film, which runs an economical 126 minutes, may cause anger, resentment, disgust but also amazement, shock and surprise which can’t be said for most films.