Beyond its dazzling settings, acting, and soundtrack; beneath the twists and turns of its fantastically pretzled plot; Syriana is based on a pretty dumbed-down idea: the root of all evil in the world - the Great Satan, if you will - is American Big Oil.
Wearing Hermes and Rolodex instead of horns and tails, the bad guys are instantly recognizable: glit-edged attorneys, greedy politicians, colluding bureacrats, and gimlet-eyed techno-warriors all orchestrating the assassination of Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (Alexander Siddig), the lone progressive leader in an unnamed Arab Emirate who is about to sign an oil deal with the Chinese.
Prince Nasir is Doing the Right Thing, because according to the prince's American consultant (Matt Damon), "the Americans are sucking the Emirate dry" and the prince cannot modernize or redistribute the wealth while "the Americans keep making demands."
Here is where the dumbing-down kicks in. The Chinese, evidently, are not going to make any demands or mismanage any natural resources. Is this because they have modeled their environmental policies on the wisdom of Chairman Muir ... er, Mao?
In another plot twist, Big-Oil-Ze-Bub is depicted as being directly responsible for terrorism. Not because the United States has invaded Iraq - that little detail is not mentioned in the film (too controversial, perhaps). No, the Evil One encourages terrorism through unfair employment practices. Early in the film, a group of Junior Managerial Demons summarily fire a hundred Pakistani workers, an unhappy event which leads directly to two sweet-faced young men being recruited by a suicide bomber cell.
Again, the meaning is clear. This sort of thing would not happen under the enlightened management policies of Beijing. (Or maybe we wouldn't hear about it, under the enlightened media policies of Beijing?)
I could go on. But suffice it to say that this film, like so many other "thought-provoking" Hollywood confections, provokes only one thought: Better the Devil we know ...