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 ...

December 17, 2005 10:46 AM |



PRC Pop 

The Chinese pop music scene is like no other ...

Remembering Elvis 

The best part of him will never leave the building ...

Beyond Country 

Like all chart categories, "country" is an arbitrary heading under which one finds the ridiculous, the sublime, and everything in between. On the sublime end, a track that I have been listening to over and over for the last six months: Wynnona Judd's version of "She Is His Only Need." The way she sings it, irony is not a color or even a set of contrasting colors; it is iridescence.

Miles the Rock Star? 

Does Miles Davis belong in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame? Here's my take on his career ...

Essay Contest 

Attention, high school jazz listeners ...

more trax

Me Elsewhere

Edward Hopper 

Painter of light (and darkness) ...

Dissed in Translation 

Here's my best shot at taking Scorcese down a few pegs ...

Henri Rousseau Revisited 

"Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris" appeared at the National Gallery of Art in Washington this fall ...

Paul Klee's Art 

Paul Klee was not childish, despite frequent comparisons between his art and that of children...

Our Art Belongs to Dada 

Rent my "Dadioguide" tour of the Dada show (before it moves to MoMA) ...

more picks


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Serious Popcorn published on December 17, 2005 10:46 AM.

I'm Available was the previous entry in this blog.

Eye Candy is the next entry in this blog.

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