I attended a screening of Syriana on Wednesday, then participated in a panel with writer/director Stephen Gaghan, former CIA operative Bob Baer, Frank Gaffney and others. ABC’s Jonathan Karl ably moderated.
The most cogent criticism of the film came from Frank: He noted that the film elided the fact that oil money is being used to fund terrorism, and that terrorism, and the ideologies that drive it, are a serious threat to Americans and others.
Gaghan responded by saying he couldn’t cover everything in one movie. But this strikes me as a rather glaring omission.
Not all the bad guys in the film are American but the worst of them are — greedy corporate types and government officials who spinelessly do their bidding.
Also, astonishingly, Hezbollah gets favorable treatment. George Clooney’s character, a world-weary CIA agent loosely based on Baer, is advised to get Hezbollah “clearance” before moving back to Beirut. He requests and receives it from a kindly old Hezbollah spiritual leader who can be counted on – in a way Americans can not – to keep his word. No mention in the film of the fact that Hezbollah terrorists are second only to al-Qaeda in number of Americans they’ve slaughtered.
There’s also a scene in which a corporate type defends corruption – derivative of Gordon Gecko defending greed. At the end, the Clooney/Baer character decides he does care after all about the terrible things going on in the world – reminiscent of Rick Blaine, the Humphrey Bogart character in Casa Blanca.
On the plus side, the film offers up some very intriguing images (among my favorite: sexy Iranian girls in an underground Tehran nightclub putting their chadors over their cocktail dresses and replacing their high heels with sensible shoes before going back out into the streets). Also there’s plenty of action and suspense, though all of it in pursuit of a plot that doesn’t quite cohere.