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Opiyo Okeyo
The Liberator Magazine 5.1 #14, 2006


"Syriana" Once in a while, we see a film that both entertains and stimulates thought. The film does not necessarily answer any questions in particular but, perhaps, suggests that there are questions among us that need to be asked. Such is the case with "Syriana," a film by the creators of the Academy Award-winning drama, "Traffic" (Steven Gaghan and Steven Soderbergh). "Syriana" is adapted from "See No Evil," a novel written by former CIA agent, Robert Baer. The film reels audiences in through multiple, convincing story lines that are relative to our current social crisis. And for those who would rather believe there is no crisis, the film can present an alternative perspective through its attempt to express how the arrogance of world powers, like the United States, can affect people in less developed societies. "Syriana" is set in an oil-producing country off the Persian Gulf, where its prince prepares to succeed his ailing father. Envisioning a rapidly developing and completely independent country, the prince abandons U.S. interest in his country’s oil and pursues a higher offering from China. Consequently, Connex, a Texas energy plant loses oil-drilling rights in the gulf region. In an effort to preserve productivity, Connex sets out to merge with Killen, a smaller Texas oil company. A speculative U.S. Justice Department then commissions a major law firm to investigate the legalities behind the prince's business deal with China.

Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) enters as the lawyer on the case. His boss and head of the firm, Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer), is adamant about ceasing the prince’s mission with the Chinese. Whiting seeks to persuade the prince’s sick father to choose the youngest and less mature of the sons to succeed as ruler. Blind to his father and youngest brother’s interactions with the U.S., the prince continues to prepare to be ruler and throws a party at his estate. At the party, a young boy, who happens to be the son of U.S. energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), accidentally dies. The prince empathetically offers Woodman an astronomical business deal and builds a relationship with him that clarifies where he wants to take his country economically as the future ruler. However, the pact the prince made with the Chinese proved somewhat problematic as it terminated the jobs of numerous laborers that were bussed daily to the desert energy fields for work. Pakistani workers like Wasim (Mazhar Munir) and his father, Saleem Ahmed Kahn (Shahid Ahmed), were among those laborers left hopeless and embittered by the prince's business maneuverings. Soon Wasim’s anger led him to a madrassa (an Islamic school for Muslims, just like parochial schools for Catholics) where he receives support from those with similar realities. Once there, they are in the cunning hands of a dangerous Egyptian recruiter bearing a massive weapon he surreptitiously received during a transaction with Bob Barnes (George Clooney) a veteran CIA agent who floats through the story constantly on assignment, nearing retirement and ignorant towards the true motives of the U.S. government, yet prideful nonetheless.

"Syriana" illuminates the ominous loom of capitalism, and how it weaves our realities of dependency into something that can leave each of us as both oppressor and sufferer in our social dilemmas. To the average person who pays the least bit of attention to current events while carrying the most basic understanding of history, the film offers nothing new. However, there is a pleasure we receive from just experiencing how things work. In that respect, this motion picture is intriguing in its ability to express the intricacies of economics, ethics and people in a globalizing society. "Syriana" portrays an existence where everything is inter-connected and feeding on ignorance and corruption. The film ultimately leaves viewers with the question: Can my beloved government only be getting better at getting worse?

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