Sunday, March 05, 2006

# Posted 9:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG DRINKING BUDDIES IN THE NEWS WATCH: As Peter Nolan and his coauthor Sacha Kumaria point out in today's Sunday Times, George Clooney's Syriana, up for two Oscars tonight, gets it all neatly wrong in adapting Bob Baer's memoir about terrorism, the Gulf states and the oil industry.

Imagine if the story of the journalists who investigated Richard Nixon’s cover-up of Watergate, All the President’s Men, had been filmed to show Jimmy Carter as the villain and you might get some idea of the liberties they take with the facts.

Instead of depicting this history, [i.e., of unscrupulous middlemen wielding influence and sheikhs squandering their nations' oil wealth] we get a political fairytale pushing the anti-business agenda of Clooney and Stephen Gaghan, Syriana’s writer and director.

In a sense Gaghan and Clooney are correct — everything is connected. The international energy markets, the war on terror, the spread of democracy and liberalism in the Middle East are all complex, interwoven issues, and no film can fully represent their interplay. But the film’s creators misconceive the true nature of corruption.

In the Middle East it is borne of dictatorship and it is political. With free markets in oil shut down in favour of grasping state monopolies, corruption is inevitable, facilitated by the secretive middlemen operating outside the regulations that govern American and European companies.

Neither, as the example of Osama Bin Laden and the well- educated middle-class pilots who led the 9/11 hijackings should show, does poverty directly drive terrorism. On the contrary, judging from Clooney’s example, if you want to drive a man to become a radical opponent of his government, just give him millions of dollars and a house in the Hollywood hills.'
Go on, read the whole article - it's persuasively argued, and entertainingly written.
(5) opinions -- Add your opinion

I agree. And where Syriana really fails is in denouncing the influence of national socialism on the Arab states. By selecting a UAE-style, benevolent Gulf monarchy as its setting, the film misses the point of what's really wrong in the Middle East - republican totalitarian dictatorships like Libya, Syria, Saddam's Iraq, or Nasser's Egypt.

It's a bit like making an allegedly anti-fascist film in 1930's Europe and selecting Latvia under Ulmanis or Lithuania under Smetona as the most represenative example... Ridiculous.
This is Coulteresque dreck.

judging from Clooney’s example, if you want to drive a man to become a radical opponent of his government, just give him millions of dollars and a house in the Hollywood hills.

And they go on about the wealth of the royals and the poverty of the masses in oil countries, suggesting (i think at least) that Syriana neglects to reflect this point from Baer's books. But um, Syriana doesn't. There is a major episode that I think takes place in Marbella. There are plenty wealthy and corrupt oil oligarchs. I don't get what the beef is. That Texan oil men are portrayed negatively (or powerful) at all?

I'm not sure the authors of this article saw the movie. They sure didn't have to see the movie to write this article.

And if the point is that the movie isn't true to Baer (the only thing I've read of his was an Atlantic article) why is Baer behind the movie? Does he just not get it? Is he a hollywood sellout? While I like Syriana a lot I do think it was unexpectedly light on the political content and much more of a thriller than the buzz indecated.
Don't forget it's just fiction. Syriana is for todays film world what Traffic was for the drug world. While well intentioned academics may argue the dymainics and accuracies of the content.

For a whole generation of people, this may be the first time they have come across these issues. Perhaps they may need a little sugar with their tea.

Isn't it important to entertain as well as inform? For my money I'm glad he got the oscar, his performance was worth it. Did Oxblog see the film?
We saw the movie, read both of Baer's books, the Atlantic Monthly article and the Syriana screenplay. I invite you to do the same.
I've always thought that nothing says "classy" like comparing an actor who has, on occasion, been critical of government policy to a mass-murdering terrorist.
Sonia: from a CT point of view, the problem is indeed with the "benevolent monarchies" such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, whose citizens fund and in part staff al-Qaeda and promulgate radical Islam - not with the admittedly unpleasant secular dictatorships.
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