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Wednesday, December 28, 2005


I had high expectations going in but I think this was actually a pretty bad movie. While I appreciate the effort to tell a topical story about the geopolitical struggles of our time, I found this to be poor storytelling.

I disliked it because it seemed like one of those movies that think they are good just because they are complicated. I wish the makers of Syriana et al would realize these are not the same thing. It's as if the filmmaker thinks he's too cool to let viewers know what exactly is going on. In a way, it reminded me a lot of another George Clooney-Matt Damon movie that I saw almost exactly a year ago, Ocean's Twelve (that was a lot more light-hearted, but similarly practiced obfuscation for its own sake).

I found a seemingly accurate summary in an IMdb thread on the movie:

George Clooney works in the Middle East for the CIA. It's his job to kill terrorists and bad guys that would hurt the United States. He's a good person and does his job well.

Back in Washington DC, some well-connected oil industry executives have influence over the policy makers that give the CIA direction. These oil industry people can get the CIA to support certain goverments overseas, and frame the discussion of American Interests so that it benefits them personally. Because these oil industry men want to make a lot of money for themselves, they get the CIA to kill the Good Prince so that his Stupid Little Brother will become King and award them lots of valuable contracts.

George Clooney is tricked into thinking that he's killing some evil terrorist, when all he's really doing is being a hired-hit man for some businessman who wants to win a contract.

Along for the ride is a corporate lawyer, Bennett Holiday, who will get lots of money if the government approves the merger of 2 oil companies. He's supposed to find any problems with the deal and report them to his bosses so that the deal sails through without government intervention.

Also along for the ride, and getting the short end of the stick, are some Pakistani workmen who lose their jobs when the oil companies merge. With no money, no jobs, and no girlfriends, they end up in Islamic School, where a cleric teaches them that their true goal in life is to strike back at Oil Companies and the United States.

Matt Damon's character is to make sure we understand that there's a Good Prince, and a Stupid Little Brother.

The main message of the movie is that US foreign policy has been hijacked by some corporate executives for their own interests, and they're just using the CIA to do their personal bidding instead of letting the CIA work for America.

The Good Guys all Die, and the Bad Guys Get Rich.

That's all correct (as far as I can tell), but it takes a lot of mental work on the part of the viewer to keep up. I don't think that is always a bad thing in a movie, don't get me wrong. But here I don't think it worked since all the focus on who is doing what detracts from whatever broader themes the movie may have been trying to explore. And turning off most viewers by frustrating them with the unclear plot is likely to dull any political impact the movie can have by preventing any chance of mass appeal.

In short, I applaud the effort, but I am still waiting for the definitive film on US foreign policy in this era.