An artistic criticism of the film Syriana: The multi-plot flick


Syriana is a thriller produced five years ago starring George Clooney and Matt Damon. The film is based on events surrounding the politics of the petroleum industry in a Middle Eastern nation.

I. Descriptive analysis

Bob Barnes, an undercover official from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is sent on assignment to the Middle Eastern nation of Beirut (Syriana).

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Things go well for him until he gets kidnapped after a slight hitch in communication. His captors eventually release him and he departs back to the United States where he gets embroiled in a secret mission to take down Nasir Al-Subaai, the Prince of the Persian Gulf (Syriana).

Bryan Woodman, an oil stockbroker who doubles up as the principle advisor for Prince Subaai sits down with the prince and together they lay down a strategy for bettering his country using revenue from the oil. Subaai has to wait until he is crowned Emir to implement this strategy, though.

Unforutunately, for Subaai, the oil companies are completely against his becoming Emir mainly because he intends to kick the American military bases out of the Persian Gulf. He also wants to properly develop his state’s infrastructure (Syriana).

Subaai also has in his long-term plans to establish peace with other nations in the Gulf, a move that will help the countries in the region abstain from wasting resources on purchasing unnecessary things such as air combat weapons. Prince Subaai’s mission is to unite all nations around the Persian Gulf in such a way that will be able to control their own oil resources.

In the meantime, two American oil companies merge in the process causing some employees to lose their jobs (Syriana). A young Pakistani man who gets cut back finds solace among a terrorist gang and he is recruited as a suicide bomber. He manages to blow up an oil compound (Syriana).

II. Interpretive nalysis

In one scene, a Washington based petroleum trade analyst establishes that as much as Kazakhstan has many oil reserves, Killen has no right to drill in any of them (Syriana). However, Killen has ignored all aspects of protocol and has continued shipping petroleum products from Kazakhastan. This could easily suggest that the Chinese are purchasing oil from the gulf and pass it through Kazakhstan enroute to the United States where it is marketed under the Killen name.

The movie to some extent purports that the US Congress can participate in numerous discussions about the profits realized by oil companies without ever establishing the real core of the matter because even the individuals at the heart of the trade do not get the whole picture.

The creators of the film definitely intended to make Syriana more than just a regular action movie. They absconded all Hollywood demands and adopted a political flow ensuring that all the issues presented in the film were well researched and put in proper context.

The general direction taken by the film makers is an attempt to establish that politics cannot be clearly separated from corruption. The creators of the film constantly invite new characters and establish some smaller plots to help develop some sense of detachment. Some characters show up briefly to pass on a message of wisdom and then leave never to appear again. In general the film is very accurate especially since all the setting, the characters and the costumes are well picked out to make the story even more believable.

The actors in the film get into character very well and their lines are written in such a way that they are in tandem with the social class and the time in which the events were happening. For instance, the prince speaks with an air of authority going in line with his position in society.

The gender relationships are also well defined depending on the setting. For instance, the relationship between men and women in the Arabic nations are more reserved as compared to the same cross gender relationships in the United States.

Due to the many subplots, the film is very difficult to follow and it even requires one to watch the film more than once to completely grasp the concept being fronted by the creators. To make the situation worse, some of the technical aspects of the film such as the jerky camera movement only serve to distract the attention of the viewer even more.

III. Evaluative analysis

The film’s authorship and directing takes some form of reluctancy with constant hesitation in the provision of whole truths. However, the creators ensure that the moral concept is pushed forward as much as possible.

For example in one scene we see an American dad and his son discussing about future prospects followed by a similar scene depicting a Pakistani father and his son. Another scene shows a Kadhi teaching the fundamentals of Islam to a group of students. This scene is recreated in the scene where the Prince is addressing a group of citizens trying to urge them to make social changes.

This style can be referred to as scenic equivalency and has been used to make the viewer appreciate the fact that around the world, individuals have their own understanding of the truth based on the social conditions in which they were raised. For peace to prevail, it is therefore imperative that persons understand these differences and be willing to make compromises.

In order to influence feelings and emotions, the creators ensure that they do not spend a lot of time trying to explain how the various sub-plots are interconnected. This is because by picking on the emotive subject of oil, the writers of the film were able to easily capture the attention of the audiences particularly from the American publics. In general, the film tends to suggest that all global challenges can be directly traced to the politics surrounding the oil trade.

In a way, the film is a revelation of the futility of the attempts of individuals trying to use politics to enact change. In order to support this motive, the director ensures that all characters who attempt to go outside this direction of events by sticking to their ideals are heavily punished. The prince and his family are killed while the oil broker’s son dies in an accident. The CIA agent also gets tortured for his beliefs.

The prince is the overall good guy and this is because he wants to establish peaceful relations between his country and other neighboring states. it is easy to see admire his dedication to progress based on his strategy to improve nationwide infrastructure. The oil companies (given face by their managers) are the bad guy of the film. They propagate their selfish ideologies by insisting on letting the states of the Persian Gulf remain underdeveloped so that they (the oil companies) can keep on making profits from petroleum exports.

The film makers wanted to make the public think of history as one that has been unduly unfair to some countries by making powerful nations exert their influence on their weak counterparts.

They achieve this objective by constantly offering parallels between the United States and countries within the Persian Gulf while coming to the general conclusion that with the numerous reserves in the Gulf the world’s superpowers will always ensure that they establish their dominance in the region. The film is intended for individuals who are interested in world politics.


In conclusion, it is worth noting that the film has the effect of not only educating the viewer on the behind-the-scenes happenings in the oil trade but also getting the audience to understand why there will always be conflict between small oil-rich nations and the world superpowers.

Works Cited

Syriana. Dir. Stephen Gaghan. Perf. George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper. Participant productions, 2005. DVD.


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