Saturday, December 17, 2005

Syriana, A Movie of Our Times

I saw the complex web of a movie that is Syriana today, yet another example of George Clooney doing something worthwhile (Kevin Costner, take note), and I still do not know what to think.

Where some things went too unexplained, such as the actual scheme behind the merger of a large oil company, Connex, with a smaller one, Killen, which is the centerpiece of the movie's plot, a few other things are made unnecessarily clear, such as the greed-filled motivation behind the merger--a house "on the Vineyard," as one of the oil execs puts it-- and the immoral acts tangential to its accomplishments--"Corruption is why we win!" gasps the sacrificial lamb Danny Dalton in defense of himself as he finds out he is the small fish to be fried to lend legitimacy to the Connex-Killen merger. The old boys club atmosphere of their meetings and the assumption of assured victory in their associations, however, is enough for the audience to believe that the likes of the powerful Washington lawyer played by Christopher Plummer and the various oilmen, played by Chris Cooper, Tim Blake Nelson, and Peter Gerety, have preempted morals with the imperative of uninterrupted growth and profits. (Even greedy, powerful types don't necessarily speak the language of a Gordon Gekko, but what do I know? I'm not exactly acquainted with any oil execs.)

Anyhow, because Syriana has so many characters and plot lines, it runs the danger of trying to be too many movies at once. It succeeds, however, because the subject it covers, which is how a capitalist or "dollar diplomacy" U.S. foreign policy, enacted in the interest of growing profits by maintaining unfettered access to other countries' national resources, rules the day and involves all of the actors which the movie includes--that conspiracy that includes the executives of powerful oil companies, contingents of the U.S. government, and the imam or emir seats of oil emirates, which we get a glimpse of in this film.

also makes sense of seemingly nonsensical things--from why a young Pakistani would committ suicide to bomb an oil tank to why a reform-minded leader of a small Arab emirate dies "accidentally" in the middle of the desert to why ill-gotten mergers are approved by the Department of Justice. I'm not saying that Syriana provides the only explanations, but it provides some good--if a little too neat--ones. I couldn't help but think while watching it of my Latin American History class from last year. By the end of the class, as by the end of this film, it was clear to me that U.S. foreign policy would lack any morality in the eyes of the rest of the world if its efforts were based not on encouraging democracy and the popular expression of the people but by propping up oppressive, reactionary rulers most amenable to U.S. corporate hegemony. Of course, some people will point out that some of these critical governments lack any moral authority themselves, but we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than those countries.

Syriana is another in a string of political thrillers that The New Yorker critic David Denby calls "stunningly pessimistic":
It’s a strange movie, and a stunningly pessimistic one, and the strangeness and pessimism connect it (in my mind, at least) to other recent American films in ways that suggest that something unhappy in the national mood has crept into the movies.

With all that is going on in the world because of the truly corrupt interests of the U.S. federal government, is it any wonder that the movies today should reflect this "unhappy" national mood?

No comments: