Few movies have the power to engage me beyond the two hours I spend in the theater, but Syriana was one of those. Stephen Gaghan managed to create a fictional world whose complexity, for once, comes somewhat close to the complexity of real life. It’s hard to describe the plot of Syriana, perhaps because the movie doesn’t have one, in the traditional sense of the term. Rather, it gives us several storylines that interweave together to create a story.
Here’s the best I can do: An oil-rich Gulf state decides to sell its oil to the highest bidder, which in this case happens to be China. The deal is signed by the heir to the throne, Prince Nasir (played by Alexander Siddig). A Geneva-based analyst (Matt Damon) believes that the prince is right to apply principles of a free market economy and offers his services. But the American oil company who had hoped to land that deal isn’t too pleased; its CEO (Chris Cooper) wants to complete a merger with another oil company, and having the prince around isn’t so good for their business. The merger, however, is sure to ignite a Justice Department investigation, so a lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) is hired to do due diligence (the kind of diligence where you work out who’s going to take the fall to preserve the merger.) The young men who work in some of those oil rigs are fired at the whim of the deals being made or unmade, and two of them, hoping for three square meals a day, join a madrasa led by a blue-eyed cleric (Amr Waked). The government, of course, has stakes in the lost deal as well, and needs to make sure that oil is cheap and abundant for American consumers, so a veteran CIA man (George Clooney) is sent to Beirut to take care of things. An informant changes sides and turns against one of his contacts. And on and on.
The characters in Syriana are neither good nor bad; they do things out of greed or idealism, out of fear or desperation, each of them only aware of the particulars of their own situation. But in fact everything is connected, everything has consequences beyond those they see. And so the result is the continuing chaos we find ourselves in. The movie is not without fault (in particular, I think it could have given even more depth to some of the storylines) but I really liked it.
BTW, I should say how amused I was to spot Morocco everywhere in this movie: There’s Casablanca, substituting for Beirut; and, look, there it is, substituting for Teheran; and, oh, there’s the refinery port substituting for a Gulf port. I also drove Alex crazy pointing out all the veteran Moroccan actors playing bit parts. You just can’t take me to the movies.