Monday, March 16, 2009

Revisiting Syriana

Some trust fund prosecutor, got off-message at Yale thinks he's gonna run this up the flagpole? Make a name for himself? Maybe get elected some two-bit congressman from nowhere, with the result that Russia or China can suddenly start having, at our expense, all the advantages we enjoy here? No, I tell you. No, sir! Corruption charges! Corruption? Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulations. That's Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around in here instead of fighting over scraps of meat out in the streets. Corruption is why we win.
-- Danny Dalton, Syriana

I loved Syriana when I saw it in 2005 but was also quite angry at the state of the world portrayed by the film. My anger was reflected in my blog posting about the film:

Tell me something I don’t know! Seriously tell me something I don’t know. For the record, I don’t live in a world where my news comes from only one tv channel. I am lucky enough to live in a world where there are books which are not only interesting but intelligent. I also live in a world where there exists art which is not only meant for entertainment. And speaking of entertainment, what about movies? What the hell is the point of a movie? What purpose does a movie like Syriana serve? If one likes this movie, then it does not matter. If one hates this movie, it does not matter either. It does not matter if one sees this movie or not. This movie will not change a thing in the real world. In the real world, lies are openly told. People believe it because they don’t have a choice. Governments lie, corporations lie, so what? We have been told to shut up and turn a blind eye. And then come movies like these. People will call this the truth and people will call this propaganda but in the end, it won’t change a thing. At the end of the day, the only thing the average man can do is to watch movies which affirm their beliefs about the lies that they already know. Because you see the average person needs to drive a car everyday, the average person needs a bus or an airplane or other transportation which relies on energy. Energy which is generated by OIL! Yup bloody OIL! Black oil, money oozing oil! Oil! People are killed, governments are toppled, money changes hands, a few men get together and smoke some cigars, some drink and some get fat (and the fat is not only because of money), jobs are lost, jobs are gained, ships move, cars are blown up, technology fails and movies are made. Syriana has the look and feel of Traffic because Gaghan was the screenwriter of the 2000 award winning film. Syriana is more complicated than Traffic and it does not explain everything. Is it hard to follow? Not really. The movie jumps from location to location but it has no choice because the movie tries to cover all the essential angles – covert operations, corporation take-overs, corruption, rich rulers, good noble rulers who are trying to make a difference, the unemployed worker, the corruptor, the family man, etc. Everything is presented. There is no start and no end. We get a slice of the happenings in the crazy OIL world. We also get some very realistic portrayals of life in the lower rungs of the oil crazy world. Finally a movie which accurately shows the daily life of foreign workers in the compounds!

Syriana forms an interesting trilogy of movies in 2005 with The Constant Gardener and Lord of War being the other. Put all these movies together and some very hard facts come out in the open. But like I said earlier, it won’t change a thing! One of my favourite movies of the year!!! Yet I can’t give it a perfect rating. Why? Because I wanted more angles to be covered, I wanted more lies to be shown.

Watching Syriana again almost 3.5 years again is a sobering experience. In 2005 I only picked up on the oil policies and the spy games shown in the film. But the following quote can indeed point to other areas of the market where things went wrong:

Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulations. That's Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection.

Now the entire world knows which people got away with what over the last few years. And this time, it wasn't only the oil men. It was other wall street corporations, men in suits, who got rich when no one was looking.

Syriana was certainly relevant back in 2005 and amazingly the film is even more relevant now because the film brilliantly shows how financial manipulation was/is tied with covert operations and regime changes. We truly do live in a world that gets worse every day because of past actions and manipulations yet we only judge the villains based on their present reactions.

Syriana does make a worthy double bill with Body of Lies. In fact, Body of Lies does borrow some scenes (the target strike) from Syriana. At the end of the day, movies like Syriana offer people a chance to look at the ugly world that exists and in that sense, the film does not offer any form of escapism like most commercial movies.

Plenty of useful quotes from the film:

When a country has five percent of the world's population but spends fifty percent of the world's military spending, that country's persuasive power is in decline. -- Prince Nasir Al-Subaai

Bob Barnes: Intelligence work isn't training seminars and gold stars for attendance.
Fred Franks: What do you think intelligence work is Bob?
Bob Barnes: I think it's two people in a room and one of them's asking a favor that is a capital crime in every country on earth, a hanging crime.
Fred Franks: No Bob, it's assessing the information gathered from that favor and then balancing it against all the other information gathered from all the other favors.

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