Syriana: The Price, Profit Margin, Proselytization, and Political Psychology of Petroleum

by on December 18th, 2005

Beginning in an alcove of Persian underground with a CIA agent making a subversive explosive device deal with an Iranian arms smuggler, cascading through the lanes and littered byways of Beirut, Lebanon, through the glitzy, sumptuous, social hobnobs of Emirs, envoys, and corporate experts; through miniature tragedies and macro revelations, Syriana, a Stephen Gaghan production, is a commentary that binds together locales, limitations, and liabilities of Globalization, illustrating the real, implying the injustice, and invoking the human.

Starring notables such as George Clooney (in the role of a renegade CIA Operative Bob Barnes), and Matt Damon (Energy Expert by the name Bryan Woodman), this $50 million dollar Warners Brothers production, is an 126 minute collection of stirring vignettes interconnected by the tragedy, test, torment, torture, and truth of Modern Geopolitics. As the tagline for the feature film posits “Everything is Connected”.

The crux of the production is some Arab principality: the site of the mutually vested interests of a small Texas based oil firm called Killen, and another Texas based larger oil firm called Connex; the prominent role of Washington D.C. as a Corporate benefactor; an entrepreneurial and embarrassingly autonomous CIA agent called Bob Barnes; the tragic life of Matt Damon, an energy expert bereft of his young son in an incidental mishap; a high-minded Harvard and Georgetown educated Middle Eastern prince-his squabbling effete younger brother, and semi-senile pro-American father; and an Islamic fundamentalist cell, and a group of simple Pakistanis. These elements come together in alternating twists of corporate interest, political tug of war, and the fundamental bio-psychology of human existence complete with its intricate trappings of sensuality and sorrows in the present World Order.

The soaring gas prices, and demand for Middle Eastern oil is the prime opportunity for oil companies to thrive: in line with the Economic tenets of low supply, high demand, profit maximization, and Economics’ dirty little secret: game politics. Energy expert Bryan Woodman points out the urgency of the oil situation: “It’s running out, and 90% of what’s left, is in the Middle East. This is a fight to the death.” Fighting against the rising tide of Chinese gas-hungry Economy, Washington D.C., or more accurately, the CIA, forges ties with politically unlikely bedmates such as Oil magnates, the Iranian cleric, and the oil rich Arab State, brought behind the doors of the same nuptial chamber sharing in the delights of the common virgin bride of the profit margin.

Getting in the way of this drive is the unflinching commitment of an idealistic Arab popular icon, his Excellency, Prince Nasir. With the pro-justice, sympathetic, Bryan Woodman as his Energy expert and Economic Advisor, Prince Nasir opposes the evident tyranny of American Oil interests, favoring instead the Chinese bidders, whose higher bids would ensure for the princedom the financial leverage and the healthy GNP to pursue infrastructure development, gender equity, and higher quality of life.

Prince Nasir seeks to reverse the calamity of the modern Arab States, which Bryan Woodman, starring Matt Damon, incisively points out in his powerful rhetorical question: “You want to know what the business world thinks of you? We think a hundred years ago you were living out here in tents in the desert chopping each others head’s off, and that’s exactly where you’re gonna be in another hundred. So yes, on behalf of my firm, I accept your money.”

It is not easy for Pakistani men and boys to grow up in an Arab land, without knowing very much of Arabic, facing social stigma, second class treatment, languishing in oil fields; but this is much better than the options in their native State. In their struggle and despondency, they find common grounds in their adopted cousin nation, in the teachings of a reactionary Islam that despises the haunting specter of Western Privatization, and Free-trade. Abandoning the dreamy eyed nostalgia of his romantic Pakistani father who seeks not his place under the sun, but merely a cooling shade underneath it; one of the Pakistani boys is transformed into a surrogate suicide bomber, who launches into a Connex-Killen LNG tanker in an effort reminiscent of the bombing of U.S.S. Cole.

In its candid portraiture and cathartic projections, Syriana is a media success.

Syriana takes off with the lightning speed of a thriller, the gonzo force of frontline journalism and the emotional wallop of a drama that puts a human face on shocking statistics. This is the best acting Clooney has ever done — he’s hypnotic, haunting and quietly devastating” comments Peter Travers, of the Rolling Stone Magazine.

A.O. Scott of New York Times notes the movie as “One of the best geopolitical thrillers in a very long time….Syriana spins a complex, intriguing narrative about oil, terrorism, money and power.”

Truly, this was a movie that brought to American screens the sordid reality and developmental challenge of Incipient Globalization. In its completeness of humanity and lack thereof, Syriana is a time-tested illustration of the conflicting duality of wanton human greed and the warmth of a simpler life and the hurt of a simple loss. Calculated statistically, these micro vignettes become macro horrors, their course and recourse as fluctuated as the profit margin and impermanency of Oil dependence.

On the Web and in your area:

In the Delaware Valley Tri-State region, Syriana is showing at Ritz Cinema.

For more information and for movie hours, visit

Alexander Rai