Syriana (Stephen Gaghan, 2005)

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#1 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Wed Jul 06, 2005 1:06 pm

Anybody heard much about this film? I've read that George Clooney pulled a De Niro and put on upwards of 25 lbs. for the role. Here's a quick plot synopsis:
Robert Baer (Clooney), a 21-year veteran of the CIA, spent his entire career investigating terrorists around the globe. As the dangers of terrorism increased, Baer watched as the CIA's funding was cut, politics overtook judgment, and warning signs were ignored. But the struggle becomes personal when and oil executive (Damon) and his wife (Peet) are faced with a family tragedy...

Apparently, William Hurt, Christopher Plummer and Jeffrey Wright are also in it... hopefully, they'll balance out Damon and Peet. It looks Clooney is making a serious run for the Oscar on this one. Could be good. It comes out late September, I believe.
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Galen Young
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#2 Post by Galen Young » Thu Jul 07, 2005 1:01 am

:shock:
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Fletch F. Fletch
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#3 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Thu Jul 07, 2005 9:01 am

Galen Young wrote:All I know is that it's based on the book See No Evil by Robert Baer, which is a very interesting read. I'm very curious to see what Stephen Gaghan has created out of it.

(Baer's second book Sleeping with the Devil is worth reading as well.)
Thanks for the recommendations. I'll check 'em out.

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#4 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Thu Oct 06, 2005 9:14 am


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Galen Young
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#5 Post by Galen Young » Mon Oct 10, 2005 4:06 am

:shock:
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Fletch F. Fletch
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#6 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Mon Oct 10, 2005 9:11 am

Galen Young wrote:The trailer looks great. The "suggested by" Robert Baer book credit looks about right. Somehow some of the scenes remind me of stuff in the wild Richard Brooks film Wrong is Right.
The tone of the trailer made me think a lot of The Insider.
On Sunday Morning Shootout recently, Clooney mentioned that "everybody is going to hate us" after Syriana comes out. I hope that means it's packing some kind of punch. Really looking forward to it, along with his Good Night, and Good Luck.
As am I. It's nice to see Clooney getting all political. I hope he does shake things up a bit.
Jarhead...too I suppose, though I hope its more than a riff on Full Metal Jacket/Three Kings.
Yeah, the trailer does give off that vibe doesn't it? Although, I thought the use of "Jesus Walks" in the trailer was very effective.

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Galen Young
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#7 Post by Galen Young » Mon Oct 10, 2005 3:34 pm

:shock:
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Fletch F. Fletch
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#8 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Mon Oct 10, 2005 4:16 pm

Galen Young wrote:
Fletch F. Fletch wrote:The tone of the trailer made me think a lot of The Insider.

What a terrific film that is, so memorable in so many ways! The trailer does channel Michael Mann by way of the music -- Moby's "God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters" from HEAT, the visage of Christopher Plummer flashing by...I really like that "OIL CIA LIE DIE WIN OIL" graphic animation over the title card.
Yeah! I think that's part of what is drawing me to Clooney's film is the way the trailer makes it resemble The Insider or even the mood and tone of maybe Traffic. Looks good!

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The Invunche
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#9 Post by The Invunche » Mon Oct 10, 2005 4:17 pm

It just needs a bit more of Al Pacino shouting.

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#10 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Mon Oct 10, 2005 4:19 pm

The Invunche wrote:It just needs a bit more of Al Pacino shouting.
Well, that goes without saying... Hoo-HA! :wink:

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#11 Post by TedW » Mon Oct 10, 2005 11:38 pm

I saw an early cut and it's much closer to Traffic/The Insider than it is to Wrong is Right, I can assure you.

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#12 Post by che-etienne » Sat Oct 15, 2005 9:07 am

That would fit since its Gaghan, but I'm worried it's just an attempt to do the same thing for the war on terror what they did for the war on drugs. Frankly, when I first saw Traffic I was only thirteen years old so I was naturally blown away, but now I realize how really limited it is. All the problems it illustrated and revealed in the war on drugs were quite undercooked. It became almost light entertainment in a way. I remember seeing the BBC mini-series around the same time and not liking that, but maybe I'd like that better this time around. Anyway, I'm looking forward to this if only because I'm a big fan of Clooney and I like Matt Damon, but generally Gaghan to me is just a message filmmaker.

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#13 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Mon Nov 14, 2005 1:37 pm

Time has an article on the movie and the real events it is based on:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/artic ... -1,00.html

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Galen Young
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#14 Post by Galen Young » Mon Dec 12, 2005 9:51 am

:shock:
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#15 Post by David Ehrenstein » Sat Dec 24, 2005 10:19 pm

It's an absolutely superb film -- and a lot easier to follow than an Altman jamboree. There are several separate stories which don't converge until the last fifteen minutes or so -- but you can see it coming throughout. Over and above the acting and plotting (both excellent) this film is full of basic information about the situation in the middle east right this minute and the decidedly unpretty pass our Lust For Oil has brought us to.

Required viewing.

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#16 Post by justinbaker2 » Sun Dec 25, 2005 12:18 am

Saw it today. Like others have mentioned, I am completely mystified by claims that it is hard to follow. Not only is it not, but I was specifically impressed at how well the story flowed together.

When I left the theater, I had a nice rant all prepared about how I wish more people would see films like this. If you find yourself with such notions, go visit the IMDB board for this film and read any of the posts with all-caps titles and you can crush your spirit like mine.

That aside, this is exactly the sort of political filmmaking I like. I really do wish people would think long and hard about the portion of the story dealing with the progressive brother vying to be Emir who is assassinated because he would be inconvenient to US interests. It's one of those sorts of things that "everyone" "knows" goes on, but we are not confronted with it nearly often enough.

I hadn't previously registered any particular thought on George Clooney, but with Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck this year, I'm starting to become a fan.

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Andre Jurieu
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#17 Post by Andre Jurieu » Mon Dec 26, 2005 2:16 pm

David Ehrenstein wrote:Required viewing.
... for anyone who is completely ignorant of the nature of the oil business. Otherwise, for anyone who has acquired a basic knowledge of how oil is delivered to the North American consumer (or a great many other products, for that matter), it simply presents an overview of surface realities. As stated...
David Ehrenstein wrote:... this film is full of basic information about the situation in the middle east...
... but it doesn't supply anything beyond the basics. It's good filmmaking, and presents this basic information in an engaging fashion, but it certainly doesn't explore the oil business in any new depth or in any complex manner (other than its fractured narrative, which I agree is fairly easy to follow).

I enjoyed the film as an piece of entertainment with political motivations, but it certainly didn't offer me anything new in terms of information. I'm not sure I would call it required viewing to most of my friends who understand the oil business. Perhaps I would recommend it to a few friends who don't understand the realities of big business in the global marketplace.

The one aspect that really bothered me was the family subplots. At least when Traffic presented family problems they had a great deal to do with the topic at hand (drugs and political boundaries). The family stuff in Syriana feels tacked on in order to provide back-story and motivation, but it's rather contrived and unnecessary for the topic at hand. If you are going to make a film about the oil business, stick to the details of the oil business instead of showing how all the people involved have to deal with failed-father relationships.

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#18 Post by ben d banana » Mon Dec 26, 2005 2:35 pm

So you're saying this would've been a good first political thriller for Wes Anderson, Andre? There are pool scenes and everything.

My reaction was somewhat similar. I certainly enjoyed it, but it was hardly the scathing expose I had been led to believe.

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Galen Young
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#19 Post by Galen Young » Mon Dec 26, 2005 3:47 pm

:shock:
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ben d banana
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#20 Post by ben d banana » Mon Dec 26, 2005 4:01 pm

Fair enough Galen, I hate the people (all of them) as well, but Andre and I, while being born American, live in the liberal pinko fantasyland of Canada where news travels a little more freely and quickly.

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#21 Post by oldsheperd » Tue Dec 27, 2005 3:20 pm

Galen, I think Committe for the Liberration of Iran was akin to White House Iraq Group also.

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Galen Young
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#22 Post by Galen Young » Wed Dec 28, 2005 2:31 pm

:shock:
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Fletch F. Fletch
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#23 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Tue Jan 03, 2006 5:14 pm

An interesting article on the script changes:

http://www.boingboing.net/2005/12/28/sy ... lay_s.html

Including a link to the screenplay: http://pdl.warnerbros.com/wbmovies/syri ... enplay.pdf

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#24 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Wed Mar 08, 2006 1:49 pm

Andre Jurieu wrote:I completely agree that Syriana is a decent primer for people who are ignorant of the oil industry, especially since it delivers it's message in an somewhat entertaining manner (smuggle in the edumacation with the explosions, I guess).

The one difference between Traffic and Syriana that makes Soderbergh's film a bit better in my opinion is that makes the distinction between the borders within the drug war through its style. Gagan's direction of Syriana seems to focus more on the connection between all these various parties within the oil industry. Soderbergh's film also displays the connection, but with his changing color schemes he changes the intimacy of the various battlefields within the "war on drugs". You're correct in saying that Traffic doesn't really show us anything new about the "war on drugs". It does however make sure we understand that this "war" is mostly political and that it has begun to become distracted from the actual issue at hand. It also makes sure we understand the borders that create barriers in this war are more than just physical or geographic obstacles. Again, this stuff is nothing new, but Soderbergh conveys a great deal with his style and construction of the film instead of just within the content within a scene.
Okay, I can certainly agree with that. The film's weakness is certainly in its director and I think it could've been that much better of a movie if Soderbergh or, I would have loved to see Michael Mann taken a crack at it. The mind boggles at what they could've done with the material and that cast.
Gagan doesn't really attempt anything so lofty (or pretentious?), but I found the film suffered a bit because of its constant focus on connection. I also don't see the point of all the father-son conflicts that constantly distract from the central issue and I'm not exactly sure what we are supposed to take from Matt Damon almost getting blown to pieces and then returning to his family. So, wealthy white business-folk will finally understand the cost of our dependence upon oil once they lose a son and nearly get reduced to a Saudi sand-trap? Realistically, couldn't his conscience have been "cleansed" another way? Actually, I'm not even sure he learned anything from the experience.
Maybe that was the point? I dunno. I'm just playing devil's advocate here. Or, perhaps Gaghan wanted to have his cake and eat it too by having the macro vision of the geopolitical thriller that involves all of these characters and takes place on several countries/continents but also juxtapose it with the microvision as represented by the various father-son relationships within the film. And he just didn't quite have the skill to pull it off directorially speaking.

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#25 Post by ellipsis7 » Wed Mar 08, 2006 2:49 pm

In its 1st week of release SYRIANA has hit No 2 spot in the UK/Ireland box office league... For me it was very good, but not as well structured as TRAFFIC (which benefited from being adapted from TRAFFIK, an already award winning UK TV mini series)...

To make this kind of tandem narrative really really work, there has to be one of the many story strands acting as a binding 'macro (the theme expressed as plot - in TRAFFIC was drugs Tsar Michael Douglas with the daughter with a substance addiction problem)... SYRIANA seem to lack this (was it Matt Damon, or was it George Clooney's storyline?)... To me things like the electrocution of the child seemed contrived... What really worked was its rock solid research foundation, strong performances, insistent pacing, and very timely real life resonance....

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