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#1 Andy O'Neil

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Posted 02 January 2006 - 01:52 AM

Can someone give me something to work with? Not sure where to start. Somewhere between Clooney's and Elswit's best performance? I don't know.
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#2 Tim J Durham

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Posted 02 January 2006 - 09:02 AM

Can someone give me something to work with? Not sure where to start. Somewhere between Clooney's and Elswit's best performance? I don't know.

What the h*** is your point, here?
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#3 Andy O'Neil

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Posted 02 January 2006 - 12:31 PM

What the hell is your point?


Am trying to spark a discussion about Stephen Gaghan's "Syriana". There were good performances on the screen (Clooney) and off the screen (Robert Elswit, DP; Tim Squyres, Editor; etc.)

Maybe no one has anything to say about this movie. If so, I digress.
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#4 Jason Maeda

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Posted 02 January 2006 - 02:38 PM

that should go to "off-topic", unless you want to talk cinematography or, apparently, politics.
jk
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#5 David Sweetman

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Posted 02 January 2006 - 02:42 PM

I heard somewhere Clooney had a hand in writing it. I doubt that, but--

Actors making a movie about politics? No thanks.
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#6 Andy O'Neil

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Posted 02 January 2006 - 11:49 PM

I'm sorry, must have been a little oblique in my posts. Not trying to ignite a political debate, seeing if anyone had something interesting to say.

I chose the forum [On The Big Screen] because Syriana's currently in theatres, and it's one of the best movies out right now.
---------------------------------------
Is it true that only one stock was used for the entire shoot? "Traffic" utilized different color schemes to help isolate the stories, whereas "Syriana" maintained a consistent look. While this may have augmented the labyrinthine quality, the complexity of the film didn't bother me.

Wondering how characters are related to whom, it seems authentic to the subject. No one, not princes, big oil execs, Swiss traders, nor government agents, really "knows" how everything is interconnected, and neither does the audience. George Clooney's character is punished for trying to figure out the "how"s and "why"s of everything.

Speaking of Clooney's character, I like the aged, washed up hero that tries to make one last stand. It's nice to see heroes fail once in a while; it reminds us that there really are consequences, and it shows us that there really is conflict. Current movies like "Narnia" don't have enough consequence. I'm not adverse to happy endings, but a hero dying at the hands of a worthy adversary is much more satisfying than the good guy beating the bad guy with such invulnerability and godly grace.
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#7 Tim J Durham

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Posted 03 January 2006 - 12:50 AM

Am trying to spark a discussion about Stephen Gaghan's "Syriana". There were good performances on the screen (Clooney) and off the screen (Robert Elswit, DP; Tim Squyres, Editor; etc.)

Maybe no one has anything to say about this movie. If so, I digress.

Oh, sorry (and I think this is a perfectly appropriate forum for a discussion about "Syriana").

Andy, maybe you should have started it off with some comments of your own? Anyway, here's what I wrote the day after having seen it, keeping in mind that I was drawing a commparison to "The Constant Gardener which was a tengential topic of discussion at the time:

I just saw "Syriana" at the Arc Light in Hollywood and I may have picked a bad night to see it having worked all day, maybe I was a little too tired for a film that seemed to lack any unifying narrative thread. It felt more like a big information dump as if someone had walked into my office and dropped a stack of documents on the floor and spread them around but left out the Rosetta Stone which could help decode the whole thing.

It's easy these days to work up my outrage about the oil industry, the Middle East, the CIA, what have you, but I found myself strangely uninvolved in this. Quite the oposite of "The Constant Gardener" which is my pick for best film of the year so far. Where "Syriana" lacked a single protagonist or even a point of view from which to view it, "The Constant Gardener" had the Ralph Fiennes character who, although starting the film largely in the dark about what had transpired, led us stumbling through the story and the tale it had to tell unfolded in waves. It was powerful and much more human.

I felt the characters in "Syriana" were weakly drawn and non-dimensional where, in TCG, they were actual people. The villians didn't begin their involvement in the story as villains but ended up there either by accident or just because they lacked the moral fortitude to do what was right. And all the characters in TCG were fully alive, we met them and they told us things about how they should not necessarily be viewed so simplistically. From the greedy pharma execs to the gov't lackies to the MI-5 guy to the drug researcher. Only situationally did they do evil. In another time, you could fully believe they would've gone to equal lengths to help people and so it played much more powerfully when they all got behind this particular point of corruption (the drug test gone bad). There is/was a banality to the way big corporations exploit people that may be more difficult to wrap a story around but is portrayed in TCG with great deftness and skill.
A great film.

I thought "Traffic" (if one needs to compare the two) was better than "Syriana" too and was closer to TCG in both theme and style. Much more fully developed than "Syriana" and with such a dense story, it is a nice point of reference for the audience to have the contrasting color schemes so you knew which plot thread each scene is involved with. I don't find that device distracting- quite the opposite. It has been used to great effect by Bertolucci, Wong Kar Wai, Zhang Yimou, and was used in a different way by Fernando Meirelles in TCG. Soderbergs use of it in Traffic was justified, in my opinion. There's no shame in helping the viewer through a complicated story and "Syriana" could have used such a device. I also think it needed about an hour of back story to give us some idea why (and to whom) we should pay attention to what these people were trying to tell us.

That being said, this was a great first effort and I'd not fault Gaghan for attempting too much. So many first-time directors attempt far less as it is much easier to be successful in a business that favors the tried and true. As a director, I don't think it's fair to compare Gaghan with Soderberg or Meirelles or even George Clooney at this point, he just doesn't have the camera skills yet. Still, this was one of the rare films that suffered from being too short and so I'm looking forward to his next effort with great anticipation.

All of this is my opinion and your mileage may vary but "The Constant Gardener" was the best film of the year for me so far. I expected too much from "Syriana" and that was my fault.


Then some nimrod said this:

But Syriana makes no attempt to grapple with the distressing fact that every time we fill our cars we fund those plotting to murder us.

Instead, Gaghan's movie focuses on "politically correct" villains-- most of them Americans, in particular the now familiar white businessmen oozing greed and malevolence. U.S. government officials are toadies of the corporate titans. A "Committee for the Liberation of Iran" is comprised of hypocrites interested only in money and power.

The film's most sympathetic treatment is reserved for –- can you guess? -- terrorists. Clooney's world-weary CIA agent is advised to get Hezbollah's “clearance” before moving back to Beirut. He requests and receives it from a tough but gentle terrorist leader who can be counted on – as Americans can not – to keep his word.

No one mentions that Hezbollah is second only to al-Qaeda in number of Americans slaughtered.



to which I replied this:


"But Syriana makes no attempt to grapple with the distressing fact that every time we fill our cars we fund those plotting to murder us."

This is exactly what this movie was grappling with. It just fell short, IMO, of making a fully wrought narrative out of it.

"Instead, Gaghan's movie focuses on "politically correct" villains-- most of them Americans, in particular the now familiar white businessmen oozing greed and malevolence. U.S. government officials are toadies of the corporate titans. A "Committee for the Liberation of Iran" is comprised of hypocrites interested only in money and power."

This "reviewer" apparently doesn't know or never bothered to find out that Gaghan actually ventured into this world and met these people. He didn't just make it up out of whole cloth. He based it on a book written by a CIA field operative and then went with him so he could see for himself. The villains are the villains he talked to.

"The film's most sympathetic treatment is reserved for –- can you guess? -- terrorists. Clooney's world-weary CIA agent is advised to get Hezbollah's “clearance” before moving back to Beirut. He requests and receives it from a tough but gentle terrorist leader who can be counted on – as Americans can not – to keep his word."

I know it's easier for the intellectually challenged to keep the bad guys bad and the good guys good. That's not the way things are, however. One man's terrorist is another man's neighbor. I don't think the film fully developed any of the characters and that was the problem for me, or one of them.

"No one mentions that Hezbollah is second only to al-Qaeda in number of Americans slaughtered."

No one mentions the score of the 1992 Super Bowl, either. If you want every detail of every story ever told, start with reading the encyclopaedia. This was a 2-hour film. If you go and see it, it doesn't automatically make you a liberal. Nor should you let this ill-informed view talk you out of seeing it.


How's that?

For the record, I love good political thrillers and I liked this bettter the second time I saw it due to the fact that the stuff I didn't catch the first time around now allowed later stuff to make more sense to me.
As far as the cinematography goes, it was fine. It didn't wow me but wowing me with cinematography would have been inappropriate in this film.

If you want to be wowed by cinematography, go see "Brokeback Mountain". Amazingly gorgeous. Some dusk/night shots that will stay with me for a long time.

Edited by TimJBD, 03 January 2006 - 12:56 AM.

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#8 Craig Knowles

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Posted 04 January 2006 - 01:59 PM

Actors making a movie about politics? No thanks.


Good point. Actors, as defined by our constitution, have no right to a political opinion, nor should they be allowed to express said opinion publicly - especially not in the form of a fictional story projected onto a movie screen. In Western society, political expression should be left to those who claim to have no political opinion - like newscasters, journalists, lobby groups, and of course, schoolteachers.

Now, in regard to Syriana, I thought it was ok. Much was made about it's confusing nature, and although I see that criticism, I don't think it was ever meant to be a paint-by-numbers film. I held my attention throughout and like any good film, asks questions and leaves it up to the viewer to find their own answers. It should spark healthy discussion and debate (although it doesn't seem to have generated much on this forum...)

From a cinematic viewpoint, I found it adequate. A few images from the film stuck in my mind, but I wasn't blown away in that regard. It's certainly worth watching, though.
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#9 Dan Goulder

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 08:08 PM

Actors making a movie about politics? No thanks.


Why not? Exactly who do you think IS qualified to make a film about politics? i.e. Right wing radio and TV talk show hosts love to put down any actor that dares to have the cajones to express a political opinion. In fact, we're currently going through a period where anybody that criticizes the President or his stupid Iraq war gets ganged up on by legions of Republican butt kissers. People have become afraid to speak up. So I say, anyone refusing to join the rest of the lemmings out there should be encouraged to do so, regardless of their profession. Here's to George Clooney, who obviously listens to his conscience before he listens to his agent. Besides, if the news media would only do their job and question the B.S., then he wouldn't have to.
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#10 Tim J Durham

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 09:26 PM

Why not? Exactly who do you think IS qualified to make a film about politics? i.e. Right wing radio and TV talk show hosts love to put down any actor that dares to have the cajones to express a political opinion. In fact, we're currently going through a period where anybody that criticizes the President or his stupid Iraq war gets ganged up on by legions of Republican butt kissers. People have become afraid to speak up. So I say, anyone refusing to join the rest of the lemmings out there should be encouraged to do so, regardless of their profession. Here's to George Clooney, who obviously listens to his conscience before he listens to his agent. Besides, if the news media would only do their job and question the B.S., then he wouldn't have to.


I believe that you have missed the sarcasm.
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#11 Dan Goulder

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 10:07 PM

I believe that you have missed the sarcasm.


Hey man, don't be rainin' on my point. (apologies to David S.)
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#12 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 06 January 2006 - 02:33 AM

I believe that you have missed the sarcasm.

Did I miss something? Was there sarcasm intended? It sure didn't seem like it.
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#13 Elhanan Matos

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Posted 06 January 2006 - 03:47 AM

Did anybody else feel like it was watching C-SPAN in a narrative form?
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#14 Evan Guilfoyle

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Posted 06 January 2006 - 10:40 AM

As my first post, I feel the need to declare "Syriana" as the most courageous storytelling of the year. Its "obliqueness", which people find nervewracking, is exactly what was good about. A friend said any movie that you need to see more than once to understand is a failure. But in this age of disposable everything, it's a joy to see a movie where people feel compelled to dissect and discuss the plethora of complexities. Elswit's cinematography was excellent in forwarding the Michael Mann style of subjective camera reportage. (Characters close to the handheld lens to reveal their isolation from one another, minus gimicky Frazier lenses) Its subtlety on all fronts is what drew me to see it THREE TIMES!! And I felt I understood it the first time I watched it. Clooney, unlike Iraq-Visiting Sean Penn, truly puts his money and time where his heart is. But he has the intelligence not to browbeat people with his politics. His collaboration with Elswit on "Good Night, and Good Luck" shows depth and versatility in what is truly his year to flex.

As for cinematography, "Syriana" has a lot going for it. Unlike "Traffic", which was mostly over the shoulders and medium shots (despite its evocative color-coding), "Syriana" goes the extra length to show the scale and scope of its locations. Its rendering of the Middle East was more evocative than Kaminski's panty-hosed Israel in "Munich". As for its politics, I think that is really every viewers responsibilty to figure out. Elswit deserves nominations for both movies. As does Clooney for Best Actor.

Instead of posting, see "Syriana" again. There is more to the movie than it lets on. "We're through the looking glass, people. Black is white and white is black."
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