(detailed information about this entry from Wikipedia)
- This article is about the film. For the term's use in international relations, see Syriana (politics).
Syriana is a 2005 Academy Award-winning geopolitical thriller film written and directed by Stephen Gaghan. Like Gaghan's screenplay for Traffic, Syriana uses multiple storylines to portray global themes. Syriana focuses on the influence of the oil industry, whose political, economic, legal, and social effects are experienced by a CIA operative (George Clooney), an energy analyst (Matt Damon), an attorney (Jeffrey Wright), and a young unemployed Pakistani immigrant in an unnamed Persian Gulf emirate (Mazhar Munir).
Gaghan's screenplay is loosely adapted from Robert Baer's memoir, See No Evil. George Clooney was one of the film's executive producers. In his review, film critic Roger Ebert suggests that the film is an example of hyperlink cinema. As of April 20, 2006, the film grossed a total of 50.82 million dollars in the domestic box office. It was released on DVD on June 20, 2006.
The film is told through parallel stories and jumps from location to location, ranging from Texas, to Washington, to Switzerland, and through the Middle East.
American Energy giant Connex once had control of key Mideast oil fields in an unnamed emirate ruled by the al-Subaai family. However, the country's foreign minister, Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig) has granted natural-gas drilling rights to a Chinese company. Nasir's move greatly upsets the American oil industry and government. Meanwhile Killen, a smaller oil company, has won the drilling rights to key oil fields in Kazakhstan. Connex has lost production capacity and needs the Kazakh oil field to make up for it; to that end, they initiate a merger with Killen. Following a historic but shadowy merger, Connex-Killen becomes the fifth largest oil company and the 23rd largest economy in the world. American anti-trust regulators at the Department of Justice (DOJ) have some misgivings about the deal.
The Washington law firm headed by Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer) is hired to smooth the way, and the taciturn Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) is assigned. Whiting explains that suspicions of bribing foreign officials must be confronted, satisfying the DOJ that the parties in the merger have exercised due diligence in investigating any past crimes. It is clear, however, that Whiting expects that Holiday will make sure that no reasons are found to block the merger.
Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) is an energy analyst based in Switzerland. Woodman's supervisor directs him to attend a private party hosted by the emir at his estate in Marbella, Spain, to offer his company's analytical services. Woodman is unwilling, because it will be his son's birthday, but he is told to take his family with him to enjoy the party. At the party, Woodman is prevented from speaking directly with the emir, who is busy showing off the estate's remotely controlled electronic systems to the Chinese oil executives. They try to control the swimming pool's lighting system, but it's not working properly.
Two of the emir's men ask Woodman to explain his proposal while standing in the hallway, in front of other guests, which makes Woodman very uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Woodman's elder son, who seems slightly ill-at-ease with the other children at the party, is encouraged to jump into the pool to play a game. The child jumps in but is killed by the electricity. The power is then cut and Woodman jumps in to get his son. The electrical problem has however resulted in the 6 year old boy's death.
In reparation and out of sympathy for the loss of his son, Prince Nasir grants Woodman's company key oil interests worth 75 million USD and invites Woodman to become his economic advisor. Prince Nasir confides in Woodman that all is not as it appears. As it turns out, the Prince knows that oil dependency is not sustainable in the long term , desires to break away from American economic dependence and utilize his nation's oil profits to build a long term infrastructure and introduce democratic reforms to his country. In contrast to the reactionary, fundamentalist, status quo of his father's government (which has been supported by American interests), Prince Nasir is dedicated to the idea of progressive reform. The western educated prince informs Woodman that he wants to improve the lives of his people, advance the status of women, and create a parliamentary system on liberal lines - but the U.S. stands in the way. Woodman learns of Nasir's plans for democratic reform, which correspond to his assessment of the country's interests. Nasir hopes to succeed his father the emir, but his younger brother, happy with his playboy lifestyle and happy to continue the status quo (such as American military presence), is chosen. Nasir arranges a military coup, but on the verge of its execution, American officials arrange an attack on his vehicle by a Predator-drone-style weapon system.
Robert Barnes (George Clooney) is a veteran CIA field operative who is being used by the CIA to stop Middle Eastern illegal arms trafficking. While on an assignment in Tehran to assassinate two arms dealers, Barnes notes that one of two Stinger missiles that were supposed to have been destroyed in the explosion that killed the two Iranian traffickers was given to a blue-eyed Arab who did not speak Persian. After Barnes makes his superiors nervous by writing memos drawing attention to the theft of the second missile, Barnes is proposed for a desk job, but as a field agent he is unaccustomed to the political discretion required, quickly embarrasses the wrong person by speaking his mind, and is sent back to field work — specifically arranging the assassination of Prince Nasir. Barnes travels to Lebanon and seeks safe passage from a Hezbollah imam, who is apparently unaware of his CIA role. Barnes then contacts a mercenary with whom he has worked before, named Mussawi, whom Barnes addresses as "Jimmy," to his annoyance. Barnes hires Mussawi to murder Nasir. But Barnes's contact turns out to be an Iranian agent, who has Barnes kidnapped. Mussawi tortures Barnes, seeking information about the Tehran assassination. With Barnes's execution seeming certain, he is saved by the Hezbollah imam, who interrupts Mussawi and frees Barnes. When the CIA learn that Mussawi intends to pass details of the mission to assassinate Nasir, the agency seeks to distance itself by scapegoating Barnes and portray him as a rogue agent. An unexplained link is made here to the law firm head, Whiting, who ensures the release of Barnes' passports through his powerful political connections, after being threatened. Barnes eventually learns what is behind his mistreatment, and attempts to warn Prince Nasir before the latter is assassinated.
Connex Pakistani migrant workers Saleem Ahmed Khan (Shahid Ahmed) and his son Wasim (Mazhar Munir) are seen boarding a bus to go to work at a Connex refinery. When they arrive, they find out that they have been laid off due to the new Chinese company which has outbid Connex. Since the company has provided food and lodging, the workers face the threat of poverty and deportation due to their unemployed status. Saleem, the father, appears to be rooted in the past and cannot bring himself to deal with the situation. His son Wasim desperately searches for work. The migrant workers are ordered to report to the immigration bureau or face deportation and Saleem and Wasim wait in a long line, which is overseen by heavily armed guards. A public address system warns those waiting to keep silent. An elderly man complains about the heat, and when Ahmed tries to warn him not to talk, it is Ahmed and Wasim who are beaten with truncheons by the guards. During a soccer match, Wasim meets a charismatic blue-eyed Muslim fundamentalist cleric (the same who took Bob Barnes' missile launcher in Iran) and starts down a path that will eventually leads him into making a suicide attack on a Connex-Killen LNG tanker (similar to the Limburg attack). The explosive device used in the attack is the shaped-charge explosive from the missile that Robert Barnes lost in Iran. The individual or organization which is responsible for this attack remains unclear.
The martyrdom of Wasim through the attack on the tanker is linked to the death of Barnes in a scene where Barnes' CIA office is being cleaned up.
Woodman has fallen out with his wife who leaves Switzerland while he centers on his work. After surviving the Predator attack, he rejoins his wife and son in the US.
Bennet Holiday meanwhile has convinced Connex-Killen to sacrifice one of their men and Holidays's firm chief, Whiting, by blaming them with misconduct to get the merger cleared. The Connex-Killen chief is awarded "oil industry man of the year" in a party attended by the new emir, right after supervising the assassination of his brother, the liberal reformist.
Oil addiction and dependence
The central theme is the dependence of the U.S. on oil. Some aspects of this problem are described in Wikipedia entry for peak oil.
Syriana revolves around a subtext of father-son relationships: Bryan Woodman and his two sons, the elder of whom is killed in the emir's swimming pool; the emir and his pair of sons competing for succession; Saleem Ahmed Khan and his son Wasim, who comes to embrace Islamic fundamentalism; the lawyer Bennett Holiday and his alcoholic father; and Robert Barnes and his high school son who wants a "normal" life.
Family versus politics
There are many apparent conflicts in the movie between personal family lives and politics, mainly in terms of morality.
Blood for oil
The film suggests that the U.S. is willing to kill reformists to ensure chaos in the Middle East, in order to strengthen and reinforce its control of the oil.
The movie's title is somewhat ambiguous. Some have suggested that it comes from Pax Syriana, as an allusion to the necessary state of peace between Syria and the U.S. as it relates to the oil business. In a December 2005 interview, Baer told NPR that the title is a metaphor for foreign intervention in the Middle East, referring to post-World War II think tank strategic studies for the creation of an artificial state (such as Iraq, created from the elements of the former Ottoman Empire) that would ensure continued western access to crude oil. From the movie's website : "'Syriana' is a very real term used by Washington think-tanks to describe a hypothetical reshaping of the Middle East...". Syriana, in most dialects of Arabic, means someone who is "dirty" or "filthy", perhaps commenting on the corruption of state officials in the Middle East and the United States in the movie. In an online discussion with The Washington Post in November 2005 , Gaghan said he saw Syriana as "a great word that could stand for man's perpetual hope of remaking any geographic region to suit his own needs."
Criticism of Syriana
Syriana has been criticised because it is based on the story of a spy accused of attempting to assassinate Saddam Hussein, but in the movie the Hussein figure who Clooney is to assassinate is a benevolent, liberal prince. Amir Taheri called it "ethno-centrism gone wild. Its message is: The Arabs are nothing, not even self-motivated terrorists, but mere puppets manipulated by us in the omnipotent US!". Richard Cohen calls its portrayals of terrorists, the CIA, oil companies, and the US government "crude cliches". Charles Krauthammer has also been critical of what he sees as the film's "pathologically" "anti-American" views and moral equivalence, stating that "Osama bin Laden could not have scripted this film with more conviction ."
Beyond criticism of the film's political convictions, Syriana received generally positive reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert named it the second best film of 2005, behind Crash, while his partner critic and co-host Richard Roeper named it the best film of the year. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave it his highest rating.
Others have criticized the film for being excessively convoluted and too inaccessible for laymen with limited knowledge of US-Arab relations and the politics of oil.
- Amir Taheri is represented in the US by Benador Associates (See sourcewatch) a neoconservative public relations firm. His review also has two titles, Hollywood Arabs or The Despicable Self-Loathing Preached By Syriana.
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