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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Subtitled : Syriana

I cast my ballot along with monkeygrinder that the movie Syriana hits exactly the right notes. Call me old school but I cater to movies circa the 1970's when filmmakers first started to exercise their freedom from the captive studio approach of the past. Movies from this era took way more risks than they do today. (dead giveaway that director Gaghan pays homage: he gives Clooney a Chinatown-like gash on the nose in one scene)

I could imagine someone getting confused with the plot who hasn't kept up with the news and politics of the middle east, but I had absolutely no problem keeping the multiple threads synchronized. No spoonfeeding required. Other reviewers claim that they don't understand all the characters motives or history -- well, welcome to the real world; forget the spoonfeeding here too. Roger Ebert basically gets it:
Writer-director Stephen Gaghan (who won an Oscar for writing "Traffic") creates a plot is so complex we'’re not supposed to follow it, we're supposed to be surrounded by it. Since none of the characters understand the whole picture, why should we? Strangely, even when I couldn'’t understand exactly why something was happening, I always knew what the scene meant. . In the short run, you can see who wants oil and how they're trying to get it. In the long run, we’re out of oil.

By the way, I happened to sit right next to a few Moslem folks and they seemed to really enjoy the plot thread held together by the subtitles, chuckling at all the jokes and cultural references. Really, if Gaghan wanted to keep everyone really confused, he could have dropped the subtitles.

Character actor Peter Gerety from the all-time great TV series Homicide resurrects his sweaty-guy role in playing the "oil-man of the year". Another oil lap-dog played by Tim Blake Nelson gets off the best line, reciting the following with toothy relish:
Danny Dalton: Corruption. Corruption is our protection, corruption keeps us safe and warm, corruption is why we win.
Oily indeed.


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