Lecture later, movie review today!
I saw Syriana the other night, and it turned out to be one of those rare, delightful serious political dramas that grapples with real-world issues without resorting to deus ex machina or a charming superhero to wrap everything up in a nice tidy bow at the end of the film. Besides being a beautifully shot and composed movie with a bevy of excellent performances from veteran Hollywood actors, Syriana is also a film that seems to evoke differing opinions from those who watch it. I'll leave a proper review up to the experts; A.O. Scott had a take on it that I mostly agree with, and of the blogging set, James Rocchi came up with the best way to summarize Stephen Gaghan's newest project:
Don’t think of Syriana's swirling mix of plot lines and people chasing an ever-dwindling supply of oil as a semi-sequel to Traffic. Think of it as a partial prequel to Mad Max.
But back to the point. As I was watching the movie, it seemed like more than a few of my fellow audience members were lost by the various allegiances and parties to the movie's plot. Then when I went home, I had a hard time explaining the plot to some of my friends. I admit I don't know a whole lot about Middle Eastern politics; my only credentials are that I read the newspapers and political glossies regularly but I think I might have been better prepared for Syriana's deluge of names and terms than some.
Anyway, I came up with a list of things that you should probably know before watching Syriana to get the most mileage out of one viewing of the movie. Because, frankly, it's a long damn movie, and if you don't enjoy it the first time you're probably not going to want to see it again. So here are some key terms to make sure you're familiar with, along with Wikipedia links for some general information. Judging from how much I learned by going and reading up on this stuff after my viewing, you can easily enjoy the film as long as you know...
...a thing or two about Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan and Kazakhstan, or at least where to find them on a map. It might also be helpful to know a bit about Kuwait, as the fictional monarchy of Syriana most resembles that country in its political structure, geography, natural resources and reliance on foreign workers.
It's just a bunch of stuff we all probably should have learned in high school civics and history, but didn't. Or at least, I didn't. So I don't mean to sound condescending; it's just that the political stuff isn't the only thing the film has to offer, and I would hope that the "casual political observer" could enjoy Syriana as well without getting hung up on the history behind the film. Maybe this helps, maybe not. Regardless, go watch it! It's a good flick.