My review of Syriana will be published tomorrow, but in the meantime, a few stray thoughts and links that didn’t fit in it.
First: Go see it. Really.
Second, director Stephen Gaghan is a smart, articulate guy, and gives good interview. Check out this interview on AintItCool. Also worth reading is the transcript of this interview of Robert Baer (the ex-CIA agent whose book See No Evil inspired Gaghan) by Robert Siegel.
Third, several reviewers seem aggravated by the complicated, hard-to-follow plot. They think it reduces the chances of mainstream success, which is probably true, that it reduces the chances that the movie’s message about oil will sink in, which may or may not be true, and that it reduces the movie’s artistic merit, which is certainly not true.
Gaghan has said he made the plot convoluted and confusing on purpose. It’s an artistic choice certain to reduce the movie’s popularity, but I think it works. It tosses the viewer into action that seems like it’s already ongoing — like we missed the beginning and it will continue after we’re gone, like we’re getting a peek into places we’re not supposed to see. Several strong and contradictory points of view fly past, making it hard to discern what’s really going on, but that’s how the world is. Gaghan said:
I would travel around the world, I would meet people, and they would seem so certain of their point of view. Just articulate, brilliant, knowledgeable. An hour later, I would meet somebody articulating the exact opposite position. Brilliantly, nuanced, certain. And it was scary. Scary.
Lots of people don’t like to be scared and confused, so I can understand not enjoying the experience, but it’s a mistake to think it reflects some sort of failing on Gaghan’s part.
Fourth, I would take issue with the conclusion of Oil Drum’s Super G:
If you come to this movie expecting an engaging political thriller, you will enjoy yourself. If you are expecting this movie to change the way everyday people think about the impact of oil on our lives, you will be disappointed.
I can see why both environmentalists and peak-oil types are going to be a bit disappointed by the movie. It doesn’t tackle, or even mention, environmental issues (global warming and air pollution), and the sole mention of peak oil is a passing comment that "it’s running out, and 90% of what’s left is in the Middle East." If those are your pet issues, don’t expect to see them reflected in the movie.
The movie is not, to its credit, didactic at all. There are no explicit "lessons."
But I think Super G underestimates audiences.
The main concerns reflected in the movie are oil’s distorting effects on geopolitics (especially our alleged goal of spreading democracy in the Middle East) and on domestic rule of law. And it is devastatingly effective in illustrating those effects.
But it isn’t that huge of a leap from those concerns to the environmental and economic concerns of the green blogosphere. I think audiences will be able to make the leap.
Enough blabber, though — just read the review tomorrow.