For me, taking in "Syriana," wasn't a pleasant experience. That's not because I don't support George Clooney and his film's message (I do). That's not because I found the film weak (I didn't: I agree wholeheartedly with David Denby's assertion that it's "outrageously complicated" and feel as if the scenes are nastily curt and the product of an Internet-age screenwriter but that in the end, things come together, the camerawork and acting impresses, and I buy the simultaneity.) Nor was the movie unpleasant simply for broaching subject matter I don't like to think about (I think about this subject matter often, which, I hope, explains my need for comedy). "Syriana" was unpleasant, though not in the redemptive way, because I felt as if its form, while impressively emblematic of the blogosphere and current media landscape, was too manipulative for a viewer raised on multi-tasking, Web site links, and too many cable channels. In "Traffic," Stephen Gaghan's multiple drug-trade stories seemed better connected and fleshed out. The threads were strong, they didn't reek of anomie or seek to cause chest pains in its viewers. In "Syriana," the stories and scenes felt more than nastily curt; they felt random and explosive like dirty bombs that explode in distant locations killing innocent people. To be sure, I'm a fan of using form to communicate messages in a narrative. And this technique, of jumping from one semi-related story to another in a film over the expanse of oceans and cultures, gets right to the perimeter, if not to the heart, of many problems plaguing our world. But "Syriana" left me with free-floating anxiety lacking specific cause when it should have left me with concern for its subject matter. It might have worked differently, of course, for someone who isn't already concerned with its subject matter, and it should, certainly, be seen by people who don't delve into pop culture for reasons of fun and escape. Still, I felt like the script needed better connections, more shape and depth to its individual stories, and less of a suicide bomber's technique. Hence, the most gripping portion of the movie for me: 10 seconds of Clooney driving across the desert, while Alexandre Desplat's minimalist score sang; the music of the moment--playing urgently repetitive cells beneath long, searching melodic cries--speaking to the historic, conflicted pain pulsing in the ground. Music that tied together much more than a script that, for all its ambition, drama, and responsible urgency, could.
P.S. Desplat also wrote the music for "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" -- my favorite crazy pianist film of the year.
P.P.S. The line I stood in at L.A.'s Grove mall to get into the movie was impressively long. This as Range Rover after Range Rover dumped more happy buyers into the outdoor consumer paradise than I had ever seen at the site.
P.P.P.S. In response to numerous queries, I am not related to Robert Baer or Max Baer, for that matter.