Title: Syriana
Studio: Warner Brothers
Director: Stephen Gaghan
MPAA Rating: R
TradReviews Rating: Mature
Excellence: 4 Stars
Why: Weaving social and political commentary with believable, real-world scenarios and plots.
Summary in a sentence: Oil – and its long tentacles – and the very human lives it touches – even in the most tangential ways.

One word. Brilliant. I say this firmly because I was prepared for this movie to be horrible. Even my most liberal students found it to be confusing, and duly warned, I paid attention closely.

The director of Traffic, a movie which aside from some disturbing images, is an artistic masterpiece, scores again. Let me try and give an overview.

The entire setting for the movie is the worldwide desire for oil – spanning from America to Saudi Arabia to China. We tie together American foreign policy, Arabic provincialism, Chinese designs, Islam, politics of mergers, and several loosely connected personal stories.

Matt Damon – securities/energy trader/expert living with his wife and 2 sons in Geneva.

George Clooney – an undercover CIA (well, they’re all pretty much undercover, aren’t they? Except for Joe “I ain’t seen no yellowcake in Niger” Wilson’s wife, right?) agent specialized in work in Lebanon.

The eldest son of the Emir of some unknown Arab country. Rather than play the “are they or aren’t they” games the West Wing does by using countries like “Qumar” and Iran interchangeably, Stephen Gaghan just makes it anonymous – because, they’re all the same, right?

There’s plenty more, but I encourage you to see this, so I don’t want to give too much away.

The movie would lead us to believe that Arabs are incredibly myopic people. And they are. As Matt Damon draws a pipeline in the sand to illustrate $100B in losses due to lack of infrastructure in a demonstration to the Emir’s son who has retained Damon’s services in exchange for the accidental death of Damon’s son on a junket of sorts (are you keeping up) – we see it clearly. Arabia, broadly, controlled by “royal” families of selfish, sensual, small-minded people. Never looking beyond their next hotel stay or evening in Paris.

And all throughout, American diplomacy angling through “legitimate” means – using diplomatic doublespeak through legal channels, at the same time pretending to be concerned about an oil merger between two mega-companies, all the while considering the murder of the aforementioned Emir’s oldest son.

To unravel the plot of this twister would be a crime, like me telling you about Memento before you saw it and figured it out yourself. I urge you to see it, not because George Clooney turns in another, frankly, excellent performance (look, the guy can act), but because the story is an epic tragedy, in the modern sense of both of those words, lest my slavish Literature majors accuse me of Greek heresy.

There’s lawyers and suicide bombers too. A cutting edge mosaic of life on the outer edge of our modern reality.

Not surprisingly, it’s difficult to watch.

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