December 24, 2005


The reviews of Syriana show, I think, how little film critics read. If you are used to reading novels (other than those written by someone named Clancy, Grisham, Ludlum or Cussler), you will probably not have a problem watching this film and keeping up.

Sure, Syriana covers an ambitious bit of ground, and its plot is complex and takes awhile to congeal. Sure, you may still not know at the end who all the people work for or even are. But that's not a bug, that's a feature. Syriana makes a statement about the limits of individual action on a global scale through this confusion of characters and about the bidirectional nature of nearly all action, period, through the confusion about who's working for whom. This is about as Foucauldian a film as you'll ever see.

Almost all performances are topnotch because everyone just plays their part. They don't try to steal the show or overact or emote or anything. Gaghan (the director) creates a marvelous character in Nasir Al-Subaai, the would-be reformer prince. The exchange, brief as it is, between Nasir and Matt Damon's character (Bryan Woodman) is illuminating not so much because it proves anything but because it shines a light into the dimness of possibility. It is possible that what Syriana suggests is going on, but I do not feel that Syriana is a polemical film, and I was more than prepared to believe it was. Syriana goes out of its way to confine itself to global connections on a small-scale (if that makes sense)—it doesn't take potshots at the White House or even at Congress, and its conspiracies do not metastasize as some reviews have said.

One thing that struck me about Syriana was how much of the important content is non-verbal. I think Gaghan's use of images to create some plot points, support others, and suggest still others is masterful. You must be perceptive and attentive, but I think a lot is there in every shot that exceeds the dialogue by a long shot.

Syriana is probably a film that will only grow on me, and in a positive way, but it is already cemented in my top 5 for the year.

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