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even my henchmen think I’m crazy | by maryann johanson

DVD mashup: a peek at peak oil with ‘Syriana’ and ‘The Deal’

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Syriana, Stephan Gaghan’s intellectual thriller from last year, can’t help but get more relevant with every passing moment, because with every passing moment, we’re closer to the day the oil supply starts getting really tight and the gloves finally come off, like they are here. This is a quietly terrifying flick, with its deep web of encouraged corruption and extralegal collusion among governments and corporations in a global race to secure the last remaining drops of oil for those unwilling to give up the hegemony they’ve worked so hard to gain — to wit: the United States. You’re never quite sure whether the film sends us 20 minutes into the future or whether it is already looking back at how quaint the world was 20 minutes ago, before the price of gas in the Midwest prompted a lot of folks who’d never thought about such things before to start thinking about the Middle East. From the branding as a terrorist of an Arab prince (Alexander Siddig) by the American government when his truly noble ideas for the liberalization of his country fail to coincide with Western goals — that is, to keep cheap oil flowing to the West — to the burning of a CIA field agent (George Clooney) when his hard and fast knowledge of the reality on the ground in the Middle East gets in the way of the fantasy Washington would prefer to maintain, the film keeps you on a teeter-totter of emotion: You’d like to think that America, bastion of freedom and idealism, is above the kind of stuff we’re seeing here, but you can’t help but come to acknowledge that the idealism is a farce and the freedom propped up by a vicious downward spiral of willful denial by those in power that leads to acts of increasing desperation. The film doesn’t end at the bottom of that spiral — it leaves you with a sense of falling that is entirely unsettling.
Like Traffic, which Gaghan wrote, Syriana gains much of its potency from its documentary-style urgency — and even more successfully than Traffic did, Syriana refuses to pander to an ignorant audience, insists that this is not a subject that can be simplified or dumbed down. It demands that you come up to meet it, that you bring a level of knowledge about the interwoven complexities of global geopolitics it depicts… or at least a willingness to go make yourself better informed afterward. The film is thrilling in the standard sense we use to describe movies, in the visceral way of forcing you to the edge of your seat more than once. But it’s also thrilling in an cerebral way, too, with its expectation that you will appreciate being challenged — to follow plot threads that are only loosely connected; to understand characters who are perhaps good people doing quite bad things, and bad people doing worse. If only it didn’t all feel so damn true

The Deal may be far more conventional a thriller, but it makes an excellent double feature with Syriana nevertheless. This one is explicitly set 20 minutes into the future, in a world where a fictional — or perhaps merely futuristically speculative — confederation of Arab states is at war with the U.S., the upshot of which is that the price of gas has skyrocketed and the nation, both its citizens and its government, has reached a point of desperation. This is the backdrop for a mostly office- and boardroom-bound mystery about a potentially shady Russian oil deal that a Wall Street wiz (Christian Slater) and his colleague (Selma Blair) are investigating. It goes a little bit off the deep end of ridiculousness in the finale, but Slater and Blair are fine together and separately, and the feeling of concrete, this-ain’t-science-fiction reality the film creates is effectively low-key eerie.

Syriana
IMDB

[Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]

The Deal
IMDB

[Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]


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