If Syriana seems fashionably up-to-the-minute in putting its finger on post-9/11 anxieties, its style and sensibility hark back to the paranoid moviemaking of the early 1970s. The stage has grown more global, the players more far-flung, the technology of war more friendly to special effects. But the song—the crushing of idealism, however tainted, by heedless powermongers—remains the same. It's not just the skittering style of Syriana that gives you the jitters, but the image of a world where the separation of powers has become a bitter joke. Gaghan condemns it, but he also gets off on all the power plays. More troubling yet is that I can't tell whether Syriana is a deeply pessimistic movie or a deeply cynical one. Politically and morally, there's a critical difference. For if pessimism of the intellect can always cohabit with optimism of the will, cynicism is its own dead end.
SYRIANA WAS WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY STEPHEN GAGHAN, BASED ON THE BOOK SEE NO EVIL: THE TRUE STORY OF A GROUND SOLDIER IN THE CIA'S WAR ON TERRORISM BY ROBERT BAER; PRODUCED BY JENNIFER FOX, MICHAEL AND GEORGIA KACANDES. NOW PLAYING COUNTYWIDE.