In 1959, Truman Capote learns of the murder of a Kansas family and decides to write a book about the case. While researching for his novel In Cold Blood, Capote forms a relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith, who is on death row.
Philip Seymour Hoffman,
Clifton Collins Jr.,
The story of the life and career of the legendary rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles, from his humble beginnings in the South, where he went blind at age seven, to his meteoric rise to stardom during the 1950s and 1960s.
American oil companies Connex and smaller Killen are undergoing a merger, the new company named Connex-Killen. The move is in response to Connex losing a number of oil fields in the Persian Gulf region as Prince Nasir Al-Subaai, his country's foreign minister, and the oldest son of the Emir and thus the heir apparent to the throne, signed a contract with the Chinese instead. As Killen somehow managed to get the contract for the oil fields in Kazahkstan, the merger would give Connex-Killen additional control of the industry in the Middle East. Connex's retained law firm, headed by Dean Whiting, assigns Bennett Holiday to demonstrate to the US Department of Justice that due diligence has been done to allow the merger to proceed i.e. that the merger would not break any antitrust regulations. The US government is unhappy with Prince Nasir's decision to award the contract to the Chinese, and in combination with issues around illegal weapons, the CIA assigns field agent Bob Barnes, who has ... Written by
Stephen Gaghan penned Traffic, which was the best film of 2000. Now with Syriana, he has developed a companion piece, with the oil industry as the backdrop rather than the drug trade. The irony of this is that the films show that both industries are corrupt to the core, but only one is legal.
In fact, by the evidence of these two films, one could argue that the drug trade is the less sleazy of the two because it does not exist with the facade of legitimacy that surrounds the oil industry. If I was to make a list of the 10 best films of the decade so far, these would both be there.
It is tough, if not impossible and perhaps even foolish to try and apply one thesis to this film, but for me, it is that what we as civilians call corruption is simply the culture of the oil business, one supported and nurtured by government, business, traders and lawyers. No-one knows why it exists, but it does, and if you cannot wade in it, you are out of the game.
Syriana does not have a plot or a storyline, but it throws character and story and information at you by the bucketful. There is no warm up time. Gaghan goes out of his way to show that the people involved in this business are surrounded by a normal world with normal hopes and dreams. This is evident from the opening shot. A title card tells us we are in Tehran, but not a some stereotypical open market selling figs. It is a hip hop club.
The main story of the film involves a possibly corrupt merger of two major American oil firms. From there, everything else fans out. THe story of Jeffrey Wright, the government official investigating the merger, George Clooney, the CIA operative with missions with no apparent goal, the Arab Emir from an unnamed oil producing country, and his two sons each wanting to take over his reign, the industry analyst (Matt Damon) who will use any situation to advance his firm, and the young, broke angry Arab youth who look for meaning in life and find it in the most dangerous way.
Syriana is not a left wing movie, it is surprising a-political. It is not anti-American, but it most certainly lays blame on the US and the west for putting oil ahead of all other priorities. It is not sympathetic to terror, but its most compelling plot line tell us how a terrorist can be made from a bad combination of hopelessness, unemployment, anger and poverty.
If you are looking for a neat and tidy ending, you will be frustrated. The film ends like a truck running into a brick wall, with all but one or two plots left hanging. It does not answer any questions because I believe that Gaghan is trying to show that no-one is really in charge and that no-one really knows what is going on.
The acting is near perfect from everyone in the cast, including a small, two scene brilliant cameo by William Hurt and Oscar worthy work from Clooney and Alexander Siddig as the frustrated Arab prince.
This is an important film and it is not to be missed. **** out of ****.
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