Watching Syriana reminded me of doomsday speeches. A good one at that, that is, because based on Robert Baer's intricate novel, writer/director Stephen Gaghan shows he's a clever, intriguing and knowledgable writer. Indeed, the film is cram-packed with interesting aspects on power struggles, corruption, religion, clash of the cultures and generally the conflict between the Middle East and the Western society. The object for these discussions is oil, and Gaghan obviously makes a good point when he highlights that with today's consumption, there won't be any more oil left in the world in the not too unforseeable future. This thesis is the basis for most dilemmas and problems that most characters in Syriana encounter. Characters occupied by a fine ensemble of actors, highlighted by an atypical George Clooney, a Matt Damon hitting the right notes, and an impressive Alexander Siddig.
The plot is deliberately confusing and complex, and will take some time to figure out. But that is actually not the problem. It isn't even necessary to keep track of every little detail and every obscure character in order for the film to be effective. Fair enough. And there are quite a few interesting character relations and subplots involved as well. Even so, Syriana is a thoroughly pessimistic and cynical film – independent of the factual correctness of what's presented. There will always be alternatives – even to oil. And there will always be solutions – even to terrorism and the cultural clashes in the world. Perhaps it's just my affiliation, but if art is going to be this negative, it should be more personal.
The feel of this film reminds me of the political paranoia-thrillers of the 1970s in where there was no escape from the downward spiral, no matter what our protagonist did, and in which the implicit idea was that the inevitable clash between communism and democracy was going to end us all sooner or later anyway. Watching those films today can be quite amusing, and I predict Syriana might be an equal experience in 20 or 30 years time.