Friday, December 23, 2005


I saw this movie with Camille last week. I don’t know if you were aware, but “Syriana” is actually Farsi for “Traffik.” Seriously, the critics’ comparisons between Steven Gaghan’s script for Traffic (the American adaptation) and his script for this new film have completely understated the case.

All the same elements are there:

- insulated American family torn apart by exposure to the seamy underbelly – with disastrous consequences.

- brown person, acting as a humanizing counterpoint, struggles on the other side against the effects of white bureaucrat’s policy and power struggles – with disastrous consequences.

- investigator(s)drawn deeper into the puzzle through personal involvement – with disastrous consequences.

- wistful/subtle human moments, thrown in at random to remind us that all the characters are alive, and have concerns we’re supposed to remember.

- absurdly intricate political, legal, financial maneuvering.

- every character pre-equipped with personal dimension and professional objectives, tailor-made for dramatic conflict.

But the first movie was much better. Good enough to give the original BBC mini-series a decent run for its money. Syriana, though entertaining and beautiful to watch, and really well acted by everyone, still gave off the overpowering impression that there was one, maybe even two better movies buried in it somewhere.

The hinge, the emotional hook for a film like this ought to be the relationship between macro-economic/political/cultural forces and the personal motivations of those affected by them. The movie tries repeatedly to get this right, but for me it kept falling flat.

The main problem is believability. I have no qualms with the suggestion that energy companies dictate foreign policy, or that we kill our enemies to promote our interests, or that regulatory bodies are in bed whoever they’re supposed to regulate, or that economic hardship and tantalizing French fries can combine to create a recruitable terrorist. But if you’re going to put these suggestions forth, it should be done credibly and compellingly, in a way that fleshes out the underlying motives rather than reducing them to caricature. The Manchurian Candidate remake suffered from the same problem.

One last question: Steven Soderbergh was (obviously, to anyone who’s seen it) associated with this film.

Is his name pronounced Soderbergh like how someone from Providence would say “soda pop,” or Soderbergh as in the soldering iron of justice?

    1 comment:

    zach said...

    i think it's like "iPoderbergh."