I went to see Syriana last week with Martin and Andrew, and wrote this review;
A middle-eastern oil plant is sold to a Chinese corporation, and its Pakistani workforce laid off. The former owners are snapped up by a bigger american oil company, to prevent China developing its oil interests further. A young attorney investigates the deal on behalf of the US government, and is manipulated by the oil bosses. An American agent sells a bomb to terrorists in a bungled sting operation. Two former employees of the oil plant are radicalised at a madrassa, and plan a suicide attack with the American bomb. The CIA plots to assassinate a member of an Arab royal house, to ensure that they continue to supply
America with oil at a preferential rate.
Syriana is a complex web of interconnected plot lines, most of which deal with corruption, betrayal, and above all the protection of US interests on the stage of international oil politics. The scene featuring an American being tortured is shocking, but the real shock is the way that everyone is expendable in the face of commercial expediency. Matt Damon plays a young oil industry analyst whose son is killed in an accident at the home of the Arab royal family. Following the accident, the family offers him an influential job. Before accepting the offer, he retorts, “Great. How much for my other kid?” Human life, democratic politics and the rule of law must all be sacrificed to the greater good of the oil industry; there is nothing that's above being sold to meet the rapacious oil-hunger of the western world. The decision to sell the oil plant doesn't take any account of the plight of the workers who would be made redundant, and the oil bosses are quite prepared to throw a few junior colleagues to the government lions in order to smooth the path of a merger.
On reflection, the most troubling aspect of the film is that the agendas and motivations are so plausible that we have no idea whether the worst excesses that the film portrays are absurd or painfully close to the truth. The documentary style of cinematography blurs the line between fact and fiction further. And anyway, reality isn't what it appears. One character in the film says, “Corruption?... We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it.”
I suspect that French philosopher Jean Baudrillard would describe Syriana as a simulacrum, an image of the world that is designed not to reveal the truth but conceal it. We come out of the cinema thankful that we are leaving the nasty power politics of Syriana for the real world, where politicians are not corrupted by greed and power, corporate bosses are honest, and the soil in which terrorism takes root is not watered by the actions of some in the west. Our outrage at the values and events in the film serve to distract us from the injustice, oil lust and abuse of power that surrounds us daily. The machinations of Syriana may be closer to the truth than we would readily acknowledge.