Saturday, December 17, 2005

It's running out, and 90% of what's left is in the Middle East. This is a fight to the death [december 10, 2005]

With its multi-layered intricate unflinching web of characters, references, and narrative Stephen Gaghan's Syriana (official site) offers very little evidence to qualify as your average thriller filled with intrigue and suspense. Add to that a refusal to insult the intelligence of the viewer. And the simple documentary-like approach sans any cinematic flourishes. The ensemble features George Clooney (with a bearish beard and pounds added for the role) as CIA Bob Barnes with what might appear to be a misguided sense of duty, Matt Damon as an American energy analyst in Switzerland, Jeffrey Wright as a prim-and-proper lawyer investigating a merger between a giant oil company called Connex and Killen, a small Texan company run by Chris Cooper that has snagged the drilling rights to Kazakhstan, Christopher Plummer as Wright's boss. And these are just the principals.

There's enough going on in the film to make sure you're always watching, listening, and understanding (something quite rare in the conventional popcorn-friendly fare that hits the screens). It's a tale of unclear morality, politics, power and economics that is driven by the actions of its protagonists and spans the globe with a refusal to provide a single POV. With each sequence, the film seems to be hurtling towards an inevitable conclusion that isn't on the cards. It's this refusal that seals this film's superiority over Traffic, which had Soderbergh giving Gaghan's script on drugs the filter treatment. Soderbergh's film was admittedly about an arguably easier subject (drugs vs. oil) and a tad more accessible (colour filters distinguished the different narrative threads in the film). It, however, serves as a great introduction to Gaghan's potential, which is well realised in this film.

This is a very intelligent, topical film about chaos and disparity in this new world. And there's a lovely speech on corruption to match Gordon Gecko's take on greed in Wall Street. [december 19, 2005] Here is a transcript from Stephen Gaghan, courtesy Roger Ebert's Answerman:

Some trust fund prosecutor, got off-message at Brown, thinks he's gonna run this up the flagpole, make a name for himself, maybe get elected some two-bit, no-name congressman from nowhere, with the result that Russia or China can suddenly start having, at our expense, all the advantages we enjoy here. No, I tell you. No, sir. (mimics prosecutor) "But, Danny, these are sovereign nations." Sovereign nations! What is a sovereign nation, but a collective of greed run by one individual? "But, Danny, they're codified by the U.N. charter!" Legitimized gangsterism on a global basis that has no more validity than an agreement between the Crips and the Bloods! (Beat) ... Corruption charges. Corruption? Corruption ain't nothing more than government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulation. That's Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption is what keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around here instead of fighting each other for scraps of meat out in the streets. (Beat) Corruption ... is how we win.

Apparently, the original draft of the screenplay included something rather derogatory that got replaced by the ellipsis in Corruption ... is how we win, as revealed by a scanned image of the page in question. {courtesy: BoingBoing}

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