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Film / Syriana

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Syriana is a 2005 complex Hyperlink Story film, starring and produced by George Clooney, also starring Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Christopher Plummer and Mark Strong.

George Clooney plays an old, fat, burned-out CIA agent in the Middle East. His story is intertwined with that of a worker in Saudi Arabia who gets mixed up in terrorism, that of a prosperous oil consultant who has an emotional crisis and changes his life after a deadly accident, and that of the creation of an oil pipeline. They start separately, but all converge...

This film was based very loosely on a book written by a CIA agent — so loosely that it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It was well-reviewed but only barely broke even at the box office.

Tropes in this film:

  • An Aesop: Oil business runs on lobbying, corruption and making countless people live miserable lifes, if often indirectly. It's worth noting that this film was made in response to a request from the Pentagon to make a movie supporting the invasion of Iraq.
  • The Alcoholic: Bennett's estranged father, whose time is spent getting hammered. All the time.
  • Arab Oil Sheikh: One of the subplots of Syriana focuses on the conflict between two sons who are the scions of a Gulf ruling family: a well-meaning Internal Reformist and his playboy younger brother.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: CIA kills prince Nasir and prevents the coup from happening. His incompetent brother is left in power, backed by Connex money and political influence from the US government. All of Bob's efforts are in vain. Wasim ends up killing himself in a terrorist attack. And, even if a couple of heads do roll, this does nothing whatsoever to change the oil industry with its rampant lobbying and open corruption continuing as before.
  • Berserk Button: These idiotic plans the higher ops give Bob really piss him off. After many years of field experience, he knows exactly just how rubbish the plans are, but what angers him most is that he has to risk his life to make the situation even worse.
  • Bilingual Bonus: There's a lot of dialogue in Arabic, and parts in Urdu also. None of it is subtitled.
  • Cain and Abel: The two princes, Nasir and Meshal. The younger of which ends up taking over with the help of an American missile strike.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Stinger missile which changes owners throughout the film, just to be detonated in the very last scene.
  • Church Militant: Although the islamic school itself is not a terrorist cell, it still ends up encouraging the boys into suicidal bombing.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    Mussawi: You fucking fuck fucking fuck stupid fuck, what the fuck?!
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Mussawi betrays Bob. Brutal beating-down and nail snapping ensues. God only knows how far he would go, as he was just warming up before getting stopped.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Many of them.
  • The Cynic: Danny Dalton, the politician who delivers the infamous corruption rant. A man more twisted than a snake with a broken spine. It's especially clear during his speech to the congressional committee about how squeaky clean politics and politicians are, which is Blatant Lies delivered without so much as a blink.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Prince Nasir and Bryan Woodman have wonderful snark-duels which don't detract them from the point of their discussions.
  • Disproportionate Restitution: The prince feels responsible for the death of an associate's child even though the death was clearly an accident and offers him money — around 10 million. Double subverted when the associate is at first insulted for having a price placed on his son's life, then accepts when the prince offers him a career-making deal in apology.
  • Downer Ending: By the end of the film, CIA managed to put their puppet ruler on throne, securing the status quo. The Wise Prince is dead, just like his family and key supporters. The agent trying to warn him is killed in the process and openly used as a scapegoat. The big opening of the new gas port ends with terrorist attack so massive it just fades to white. The big business behind all of this keeps on going untouched, sacrificing another scapegoat.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: At least for the corporate merger subplot. The bad guy does win, but at least a tiny dent is made and some bad apples are removed, which is still a considerable achievement that Bennett Holiday earned with a lot of hard work.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Even the worst and most corrupt characters in the story exhibit some morals.
  • Fade to White: The explosion in the end.
  • Faux Fluency: Several actors had to do this: George Clooney does not speak either Farsi or Arabic, but had to converse in both, and Alexander Siddig, whose character Prince Nasir speaks Arabic almost exclusively for the first half of the film, speaks no Arabic whatsoever—he is of Sudanese extraction but grew up in London.
  • Fiction 500: If the merger of Killen and Connex happens, the resulting company will be the 23rd largest in the world. One character notes their net income would be on par with that of a middle-sized country.
  • Fingore: Mussawi tears off three of Bob's fingernails as he interrogates him.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Princes Meshal and Nasir, respectively. The first one is a spendthrift playboy focusing on having good time, the other is highly-educated economist and reasonable politician.
  • Hate Sink: Prince Meshal intentionally combines all the worst traits imaginable for a childish playboy archetype of an Arab Oil Sheikh. The fact he ends up winning and taking over the country is a serious gut-punch to the audience.
  • Hijacked by Jesus: Islam - The idea that man was made in God's image, as mentioned by the teenagers, is strictly Biblical. Islam is very insistent on the supremacy of God to man, to the point that even suggesting they're somehow alike is blasphemous. The video will mentions "ashes to ashes", which is barely Biblical - it's the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier:
    • Bob makes a Stealth Insult as a way of a test for the Arabic-speaking guy he's dealing with.
    (in Farsi) You don't speak Farsi, do you, you son of a goat
    • Woodman's co-workers make a bet that he won't be able to sell their economic strategy to the emir. They do this in French, right in front of Bryan.
  • Honest Advisor: Prince Nasir offers Bryan Woodman's company a lucrative contract, partly out of guilt over the accidental death of Woodman's son. A still-grieving Woodman rips into him with what he really thinks of Nasir and Arabs in general, then accepts the offer. Nasir takes it right on the chin and on-the-spot hires Woodman himself as an economic advisor.
  • Hyperlink Story: Roger Ebert used this film in describing the Trope Namer.
  • Internal Reformist: Prince Nasir (the elder of the Princes) wants to be this, and he believes he can have a chance to improve the state of his country and livehood of the people once inheriting the throne. When his father bows to the wishes of the Americans and oil execs and names the younger Prince to be their puppet, Nasir tries to go outside the system.
  • Kicked Upstairs: The original plan for what to do with Bob after failing an assigment from opening sequence.
  • Let Me Get This Straight...: Inverted. Bob gives a lecture to Dean Whiting, first laying down down the basics of the situation, then explaining in detail what will happen if Whitting won't step down. Then he politely asks if he got it all.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Bob wears the same cheap beige suit throughout the entire movie.
  • Manchild: Prince Meshal. Everyone knows that, including himself. Hence, he has no problem at all with being used as a pawn, as long as his backers let him have his fun.
  • Married to the Job:
    • Being a world-weary field agent and a spy, Bob is a prime candidate for this trope.
    • Woodman buries himself in his work because he can't cope with his son's death. Consequently, his marriage is slowly crumbling in the background.
  • Mind Screw: Though it has less to do with symbolism, odd twists and strangeness so much as having so many storylines that you'll lose track of them.
  • Motifs: Count the swimming pools in the important scenes.
  • Mr. Exposition: Dean Whiting, who explains everything Bennett needs to know in the very first scene, thus also introducting viewers to the grand scheme of things.
  • Naïve Newcomer:
    • Bennett Holiday, sort of. He's a competent attorney, but the sheer scale of things and cynical ruthlessness of the oil business catches him off-guard. He gets better, managing not to lose his moral compass in the process.
    • Woodman makes a lot of not-so-subtle comments about oil sheiks, painting them as such, but he himself isn't really better at handling global politics.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: A particularly bad example. The film was marketed as though it were an almost Mad Max-esque thriller set 20 Minutes into the Future, and was full of stuff blowing up. In fact, the film was a ensemble piece on the effects of oil politics on a whole swath of people from totally divergent backgrounds.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Mussawi starts his torture of Bob by beating him senseless.
  • Noodle Incident: Apparently, Bob did some improbable things in Beirut back in '85. Everyone and their aunt is making cryptic references to his exploits.
  • The Old Country: Pakistan for the Khan family, now menial workers for the Connex refinery.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: The swimming pool with an electrical malfunction kills one of Bryan's children.
  • Police Brutality: The guards at the deportation office are just smarting for an excuse to beat the living shit out of Wasim and his dad, for no real reason.
  • Qurac: The Middle East kingdom, which is never named and all we know about it is its relatively small size.
  • The Scapegoat:
    • Bob is quickly declared "rogue agent acting on his own" by CIA the very second he starts being inconvenient by the sole fact of surviving a botched-up operation. It only goes worse from there as the plot unravels and leads to him becoming a rogue agent for real.
    • Danny Dalton and Sydney Hewitt end up as these in the Connex-Killen merger plotline. Extra irony points in case of Hewitt, notorious for scape-goating his own assistants in the past. When Bennett turns the tables on him, Sydney is left completely speechless.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Bryan Woodman simply walks away after Prince Nasir is blown into pieces.
  • Self-Made Man: Jimmy Pope started out as simple oil driller. He is now a CEO of Killen, one of the largest oil companies in-universe. He laments about his grandchildren being unable to even comprehend the concept of hard work, since they never had to lift a finger.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: After having to listen to yet another rant by Bryan about incompetence of his countrymen, prince Nasir performs an epic counter-smack-down, showing that he's more than aware of all the problems and issues, but his hands are tied.
    Prince Nasir: (to the stunned Woodman) Now tell me something that I don't know already.
  • Smug Snake: The other prince and all the politicians. But Bob's CIA handlers are consummate professionals at this sort of thing.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A very calm harp piece plays as the gas tanker explodes in a terrorist attack..
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Prince Nasir, who is sick of all those spendthrift morons and outright calls his brother and cousins bunch of idiots, right in front of them.
    • Dean Whiting has such moment when calling security company. He almost instantly calls the phone operator an idiot for not even knowing his own procedures.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The missile strike at the end leaves a smoking hole where there once stood a silver SUV.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Bob will be betrayed and tortured by Mussawi and prince Nassir will be killed by CIA operatives using a missile.
  • Unflinching Walk: Bob does this while a car blows up in the background.
  • Unwitting Pawn:
    • Bob never really cared enough to ask questions about his job for the CIA, doing a lot of dirty business for his superiors that has far-reaching consequences. And it probably wouldn't even be a problem for him, if he didn't develop conscience over all those years in the field.
    • A tragic case happens when Bryan switches places in a car convoy, putting prince Nasir in the car with his wife and children, indirectly leading to the entire branch of the dynasty getting wiped out.
  • The Wise Prince: Prince Nasir is the oldest and wisest of two sons of the king of a Middle Eastern monarchy, desiring to use oil profits sold on the open market to modernize his country and diversify its economy. Contrast to his Royal Brat younger brother, who is content with keeping the status quo that favors the U.S., and is ultimately named the heir by his father.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Sydney Hewitt, Bennett's current boss, is notorious for doing this to each of his Number Twos. By the end of the story, Holiday manages to convince Jimmy Pope to sacrifice Hewitt to save the merger, which instantly breaks Hewitt's smug persona.