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Syriana (5/10)

by Tony Medley

An hour into this thing I had to take a latrine break. When I returned, after only a couple of minutes, there was a line of dialogue that referred to something that had apparently just taken place, so I asked the lady next to me what it was. She said she didn’t know. A moment later someone referred to “two people” being killed. I asked her who died. She said she didn’t know.

This is not a reflection on her because up until that point I didn’t have a clue about what was going on, either. After the film ended, I asked her if she understood the plot and what was happening. She said, “There must be a book.”

Yeah, maybe. If so, and if it has any correlation to this film, it’s an anti-American diatribe. This film defines convoluted.

In a world that is dominated by Islamic terrorists who take delight in blowing up innocent people, terrorists so devoid of human emotion that they have backup bombers who come in after the main bomb, so they can kill rescue workers, George Clooney (whose company, Section Eight, produced) insists on painting America as the bad guys. In this one, America is pictured as targeting and killing a reform-minded, democracy-loving possible heir to an Arab throne (a person who, since Jimmy Carter demolished our best friend in the mideast, the Shah of Iran, and delivered Iran to the Ayatolla Khomeini and Islamic fanaticism, exists only in Clooney’s imagination) for assassination from the sky.

This is combined with a scathing indictment of American businessmen. Clooney’s impression of how a Board of Directors meeting is handled is so naďve as to be laughable. I was a corporate attorney for years and General Counsel for an oil company. Corporate executives don’t talk and act like they do in this movie, regardless of their ethics. All the businessmen pictured are villains, as are all the bureaucrats.

Clooney throws in a banquet honoring “the oilman of the year.” If this were Saturday Night Live, it might be funny. But Clooney is deadly serious. In all my years in the oil industry, I never heard of anything like this. But the point, of course, is to emphasize that the American oil industry would lionize someone of such low values.

The only people presented as good guys are Matt Damon and Clooney, who looks like he, himself, is some sort of assassin. But it is impossible to determine who Clooney is or what he’s trying to accomplish. This movie is as murky as pea soup. Its only clear premise is to convince the audience that the American government and American business are hateful, corrupt and immoral by showing, among other things, how poor George, a good guy (apparently; who knows?) is horribly mistreated by the American government it looks like he serves.

The film is around two hours of nonsense. But it is so expertly paced by director-writer Stephen Gaghan it does maintain constant tension and interest, even if it's so obtuse it's virtually impossible to know what’s going on.

November 26, 2005