A few thoughts on ‘Syriana’

Hizbullah greets George I had been looking forward to watching Syriana since I’d read an article about it nearly three months ago. Back then, the movie seemed to have all the elements that would prompt me to eagerly await its release: Middle Eastern politics, the relationship between US and Arab leaders, and, of course, George Clooney (I hope the husband is not reading).

After we watched it last night, I came to the conclusion that while the movie is intriguing, with an engaging script, it could have been directed better as I found some parts of the film confusing and extremely hard to follow. The film revolves around oil and the world of corruption that surrounds it, sending one central message: Oil affects us all. However, I could not fully understand the behind-the-scenes politics of the oil industry in the US. Maybe it was just me, but for some reason I could not connect the dots on a number of occasions.

A number of my friends expressed concern that the movie might be condescending to Arabs, but after watching it I felt that despite some Arab clichés, the flick was more critical of the US pursuit of oil than anything else. Actually, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee thought the movie was acceptable and highly recommended it. Here is an excerpt from their press release.

The overriding plot does not vilify the Arab world, its people, religions, or cultures, but rather creates a world in which evil feeds off of itself, much to the detriment of Arab and American societies. Money determines everything, and individuals, including oil company executives, Arab princes and covert CIA operatives, are expendable.

Syriana is an entertaining, if not always completely lucid, thriller, representing many of the anxieties in post-9/11 America. It represents a commendable effort to deal seriously with numerous troubling aspects of the relationship between US and Arab societies, and as such is highly recommended by ADC.

The use of the Arabic language in the film was an issue for me, as it wasn’t consistent, proving a bit annoying at times. The Arab-speaking characters in the movie spoke both classical and colloquial dialects, which I thought undermined the authenticity of some situations. Also, Alexander Siddiq, the actor playing the role of prince Nasir, spoke with an accented Arabic that really got to me. Was it really that difficult to find someone that spoke proper Arabic? Hearing George Clooney speak in my native tongue was really priceless, although I could not understand a word of what he was saying beyond ‘Shukran’ and so had to revert to subtitles.

All in all, despite its glitches, the movie is worth your time and money. It’s insightful and touches upon a basic commodity that is currently making our world go round if not ruining it at times.

UPDATE: Here are some reactions from the blogosphere: Moorish girl, Black Iris, Raja, and Darren Barefoot.

By Natasha Tynes

I’m a Jordanian-American journalist, writer, and media development professional based in Washington, DC.


  1. It’s late at night and I’m about to pass out, but I wanted to add a quick note that I also enjoyed this movie. It’s interesting to me how George Clooney seems to be taking on the role of America’s conscience.

  2. Typical move, in regards to the language thing. They wither find “Arab looking” actors and actresses and then teach them awful sounding Arabic, or they get a group of Arabs all speaking different dialects even though they are supposed to be from one country. Or what they translate in the subtitle has really nothing to do with what was actually said. Even as a non native Arabic speaker, I have caught this a few times in film and news.
    I guess this doesnt matter as most people watching it wont have the first clue anyways.

  3. Disappointing movie, just watched it last night. The director is pretty bad, some of shots were not even focused right (not for artistic purposes). When you said ‘hard to follow’, I thought it would be one of those cool ‘mind f*$k’ movies, but you’re absolutely right, the director had ADD, jumping from one thread to the next with no clear segue or a connection at the end. There are some redeming scenes I have to say. My favorite was the targeted assassination, there was a actually a man behind a red button, thought that was a cool usage of the metaphor.

  4. Just a quick note on the ‘targeted assassination,’ that scene is straight, and I do mean ver batim, from the movie Clear and Present Danger. It’s discussed more in the book the movie is based on. I mean this guy just basically stole this entire scene from a previous blockbuster (starring Harrison Ford). That says a lot about his true talent. Where was Soderbergh when you needed him. He could’ve given this material some legs!!!

  5. I saw this monday with my mom and i have to say i loved it.
    It reflects the corruption that goes on on a daily basis by greedy oil mongers for the all mighty dollar.
    i was sad when i saw he end, but wont say anything because i dont want to reveal the ending.
    as for george clooney, he was the only one who i did not understand his arabic, and i was telling my mom that i think he learned pharsi so well (according to my persian friends) that he took the pharsi accent dialect and applied it to the arabic, which made it hard for us to understand.

  6. We saw Syriana tonight (12/18) so the many comments on it. and yours, were very intriguing. Most comments pointed out things we’d noticed, but they were enjoyable to read. We thought it good that a movie this serious has been made about the Middle East.
    Scenes of the Islamic martyr’s school were most suggestive to me as to what could be said to help stir up young men with so little to look forward to and help them decide to become suicidal. Various scenes of the Middle East were very evocative, perhaps the most beautiful one was the falcon-hunting scene.
    The political intrigue got very dense and the scenes when in Washington, we found very hard to sort out who all the characters were: CIA, FBI, NSA, unknow politicians associated with ?? We knew they were seeing things thru their own biases, sometimes political, sometimes career-oriented, sometimes maybe idealistic. But the end result was a convincing flic, maybe like a Grisham novel: fun and absorbing, but not so real as it might appear.

  7. I don’t think this movie is of any particular interest for anybody familiar with the region. As soon as American advisor suggests the Arab prince to build a pipeline through Iran, it becomes quite obvious that they are looking for trouble. Not surprisingly, trouble is what they get.
    Cinema-wise, character development is negligible, acting and photography are unremarkable. The plot is muddled, not complicated.
    The Constant Gardener is much better!

Comments are closed.