Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Day 89: Syriana

Intelligent, thoughtful, and involving multi-faceted drama about the wheelings and dealings of oil industry executives, the U.S. governement, Arabian governments, and the disaffected populations who turn martyr, Syriana is not altogether successful at weaving an interrelated tapestry of characters and events that culminate in blood for oil, but it is always interesting. It's impressive that it's able to take such multinational and culturally diversive topics and make each one of them a personal story for each of the many characters that populate the film. But the film is not quite up to its ambitions on a first viewing, due primarily to the fact that a lot of narrative energy is spent on an overabundance of characters and the confusing, poorly explicated legal ramifications that surround international oil law. Still, I left the theater feeling great about the film, mostly because, while the details of the plot were vague to me, I never felt lost about what was going on between the people in the film. And the intercutting of emotional beats is spot on.

I felt the same way after watching Heat, a movie I'm now quite fond of. Both Heat and Syriana lost me amidst all the names and side-characters (and in Heat's case, some of Al Pacino's performance) but I always felt in good hands, guided along by levels of pure filmmaking the way one might be if they were watching a procedural film in a foreign language with no translation. Having seen Heat on video, I was able to more fully understand the details of the plot and so warmed up to the film quite a bit more. I'm sure the same will happen for Syriana since I will definitely rewatch it, if only to reexperience several very striking moments at the end of the film.

Having said this, there are some points in Syriana where the cross-cutting between characters was off. At one moment, the film cut back to George Clooney's character and it had been so long since I'd seen him, I'd forgotten where his plot strand had left off. This happened to me several times during the movie, and it seemed as if the problem was that the film had too much to say in too little time, so it threw a ton of information at the viewer at a very fast pace. Surely this is a movie that will only improve upon a second or third viewing and as it stands on my first viewing, it's one of (hopefully) many films that will be made about the state of oil dependence in the world today.