Syriana. A review
By Jenny Haines
This is not an easy movie to review, but it is a very timely expose of
the US oil industry and the energy crisis facing capitalism. Made
by George Clooney as one member of a team of executive producers, and
directed by Steven Soderbergh Syriana
is made in the same style as the much acclaimed and awarded Traffic, the excellent expose of
the American drug trade and its winners and losers.
Stephen Gaghan, who wrote Traffic,
wrote the script for Syriana.
He builds the storyline from short clips, building to a dramatic
conclusion with a nasty twist. I find that this method of filmaking
leaves one walking out of the cinema stunned by the intensity of the
experience, and haunted for days by the stories of the participants.
Syriana lays bare the
desperate world the US is entering as its scavenges the Middle
East and Eastern Europe for oil to maintain US industry and power
against the emerging economies of China and India. US oil company
executives will do anything to maintain US hegemony — straight, not so
straight or downright corrupt.
The film revolves around the merger of two giant US oil companies,
which makes the merged company fourth largest "nation" in the world. A
tame government investigator, who is black, is commissioned to
investigate the corrupt elements of this merger.
One very interesting vignette is a US oil representative arguing
with this government investigator about corruption. Corruption he
argues, is what greases the system. Without it, the US oil industry
could not function or maintain its competitive position against Chinese
The US oil men consider themselves the winners in the oil industry, and
they have of course their trusty mates in the intelligence services to
look after them if things go wrong. But what of the people
of the Middle East?
The film examines all layers of society in the Middle East: the emirs
and their wealthy lifestyle of luxury cars, houses and
aeroplanes, but all of this is only maintained these days by permission
of the imperial power, the US. The workers in the oil refineries are
mainly guest workers, Pakistanis, brought in to do the hard labour.
Their reward when a refinery is taken over by a Chinese operation (much
to chagrin of the Americans) is instant dismissal. There is no mention
of unions or worker's rights.
The workers meekly accept their fate and line up for government
payouts. Any sideways glance at the military while waiting for meagre
government assistance earns a beating from the guards. These workers
live in squalid foreign workers' compounds, with little to do other
than their work.
The dissaffected children of these workers drift into Islamic schools,
where as well as being taught the basics of reading and writing, they
are fed a diet of hatred against the West. The West has failed, they
are told, martyrdom will be the highest achievement of
George Clooney, as well as being an executive producer, is an actor in
this film. He plays the part of CIA agent George Barnes, an agent
haunted by his experiences in Beirut in the 1980s. Clooney's character
is commissioned to assassinate the emir the US blames for the loss
of the refinery to the Chinese.
His mission fails but he returns to the US to suss out more of what is
really happening behind the scenes, and is horrified. Clooney's
character is reminiscent of Robert Redford's in Three Days of the Condor, that
excellent 1970s film about a rogue CIA agent.
Syriana revives that genre of movies of the 1970s and
1980s about rogue intelligence agents fighting corruption and loss of
direction by their agencies.
Another US operator on the scene is a character called Bryan Woodman,
played by Matt Damon, an energy shares trader who uses a family tragedy
to worm his way into advising the emir on finance and economics. But he
is really a babe in the woods in this vicious world, and he gets his
fingers badly burnt.
With Nigerian oil workers now declaring total war on foreign oil
interests, Syriana is a very
timely examination of the contradictions of the oil industry and
imperial promises self goverment and democracy. It is a film that
addresses the critical issues that face capitalism now and in the near
future. It challenges socialists to come up with answers.
Syriana has been nominated for two Academy Awards, including best
supporting actor for George Clooney. It won a Golden Globe Award for
George Clooney as best supporting actor and has been nominated for a
BAFTA award also for Clooney as best supporting actor.