Directed and written by Stephen Gaghan, Syriana features prominent actors George Clooney and Matt Damon in a political thriller portraying power hungry oil industry men and the consequences of their self-serving actions. The film, much like Gaghan’s previous work Traffic, maintains several distinct plot lines, in this case four, which interact without acknowledging each others presence until paths cross in the end. Each story serves a clear purpose in the story of oil rights and American interests in the Middle East. The premise of the movie revolves around massive oil companies Connex and Killen merging because the latter received rights to drill in oil rich Kazakstan. This merger happening is key for American interests because if not, the bid to drill on that land will be given to the Chinese. This is how the CIA becomes involved in the plot, backing the merger and eventually assassinating the up and coming emir of the nation because he would rather side with the Chinese. The film is strategically less about the business nature of the oil industry, but rather humanizing it’s victims and power players. This style lends itself to what I believe to be the overall message of more than just oil. The purpose of the film is to expose capitalism as a destructive force.
In digging into this idea, I will go over three main points supporting this argument. First of all, taking a look at the work of Bennett Holliday, an up and coming lawyer hired by Connex to investigate how Killen was able to acquire the seemingly untouchable Kazakstan lands. Holliday, throughout the film, is constantly interacting with these oil tycoons. Holliday is seemingly innocent and whimsical in regards to how the oil industry apparently works, so his mind is constantly being molded by superiors who explain to him how corruption is the way to success and that success is only measured in terms of money.
Secondly, I will show the CIA’s involvement in this merger and explain how their interests are equally as capitalistic as the oil company’s. The CIA goes through drastic measures to maintain these “interests” going as far as assassination and framing their own employees.
Lastly, moving away from the American angle and focusing on another plot line that involves a local Pakistani worker who loses his job and joins a radical group who train young men to take part in suicide missions for their religiously backed cause. The boy eventually blows up an oil rig in the Persian Gulf. This group’s actions, though radical, speak towards the regions angst at the capitalistic nature of the United States who keep the area from progressing economically and socially.