Everything Will Not Be Illuminated
Did I say complicated? Well, that's what everyone else says. While reviews of the film have been almost universally positive, most critics comment on the frustratingly opaque narrative. Despite that (or perhaps because of it) the movie wins high praise from prominent sources: The Los Angeles Times says Syriana is "an unapologetically entertaining major studio release with compelling real-world relevance," while the New York Times says Syriana "aims to be a great deal more than a standard geopolitical thriller and thereby succeeds in being one of the best geopolitical thrillers in a very long time." In other words, it's not your typical Hollywood pablum.
Maybe that's because it's steeped in the nasty realities of international petro-politics. NPR's Robert Siegel, who says the movie made him want to rush out and buy a hybrid, interviewed the real-life inspiration for the Clooney character on All Things Considered. Ex-CIA officer Robert Baer explains that the movie's title comes from Washington think tanks, where wonks in conference rooms dream of creating a Middle Eastern country whose politics are more favorable to US oil interests. Sound familiar? The problem is everyone has a different notion of what this fictitious country, Syriana, looks like.
Baer, whose book See No Evil, was a launching pad for the script, vouches for the film's overall authenticity. He also acknowledges the confusing aspects of the film's narrative. "If you sit in this movie and try to figure out how everybody fits together, ... forget it. This is not Elf II." The confusion, he insists, is intentional, mirroring as it does the chaotic clash of agendas and muddled intelligence in the Middle East. "That's the whole point. It's this smart, smart movie," says Baer, "and they want you to be confused. And you walk away feeling the system's broken."