Sunday, April 3, 2016
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
In this film, Matt Damon’s character Bryan Woodman says of the situation in the story, “It’s complicated.” That phrase can sum up this movie because it explores the various elements that combine to create the terrorism that comes out of the Middle East.
The story starts with covert CIA operative Bob Barnes (George Clooney) in Tehran supposedly supplying Iranian arms dealers with two anti-tank missiles. One of them blows up shortly after the deal, presumably killing the dealers. But, Bob is concerned because he sees that they ship out the other missile to an unknown place. He makes a fuss about the missing explosive device, and his bosses don’t like that he is making waves, drawing attention to this misstep. Bob’s story intertwines with those of a corporate merger between two oil companies, the fight for power of a Middle East country, and the recruitment of two young Arab workers by Islamic extremists.
Energy giant Connex (the name hinting that it plays deceptive “cons” to get its wealth) lost natural gas drilling rights in the Middle east country in question to the Chinese. Another oil company, Killen (which conjures up the words “making a killing,” that is, scoring money, but also the murderous act) gained drilling rights to an oil field in Kazakhstan. The two companies want to join, but the Justice Department investigates to see if this an anti-trust situation, and are suspicious of the means by which Killen acquired the drilling rights. One of the corporate executives shows how wealth in the oil industry is based on repressing progress when he says that the merger will go through as long as cars don’t run on any alternative fuels and chaos continues in the Middle East, requiring countries to remain dependent on American complicity.
The huge law firm that represents Connex assigns Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) to find out about any infractions before the Justice Department discovers them. The plan is to offer some concessions if needed. As Bennett later says they want to present “the illusion of due diligence” in exposing any wrongdoing so that it appears that the government is doing its job without preventing the merger. Bennett isn’t supposed to delve too deeply, or more unlawful acts may be discovered. As Killen CEO Jimmy Pope (Chris Cooper, with a character name that sounds like the head of the church of the new religion – money) says, “You dig a six-foot hole, and you’ll find three bodies. Dig twelve and maybe you find forty.” Bennett eventually finds scapegoats at both Killen and his own law firm to appease the investigators. The Killen employee, Danny Dalton (Tim Blake Nelson) shows how topsy-turvy the world has become when he defends the necessity of illegal business acts: “Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulations … We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm … Corruption is why we win.” Sort of reminds one of the “greed is good” speech in Wall Street. Bennett’s bottom-line conclusion (or rationalization) is that as long as the merger benefits the American consumer, the government “got out of our way.”
But, while the government gets out of the way of American big business, it intrudes into the affairs of other countries in order to ensure that “business as usual” can go forward. Bob’s superiors, wanting to divert him from complaints about the lost missile, send him to Beirut to contact Mussawi (Mark Strong) about killing Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig), who they say is a “bad guy,” aiding terrorists, and is behind the loss of the missile Bob has been worrying about. The truth is that the Prince just won’t play ball with the U.S. He doesn’t want American military bases in his country, and sold oil interests to the Chinese because they gave him a better deal. So, the U. S. depicts Nasir as a communist and a terrorist. When Bob first encounters Mussawi, it is at a sea wall. The waves crash threateningly and loudly, pointing to the violence inherent in the situation and the danger to come. Later, Mussawi double-crosses Bob, who is kidnapped and tortured. Luckily, he contacted a Hezbollah leader for permission to be in Lebanon to do his business, and this leader saves him. But, Mussawi threatens to reveal the CIA plot to kill Nasir, exposing its nefarious intentions. So, based on a plan by Bennett’s boss at the law firm, Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer, with another ironic name since his deeds are “black), Bob’s own people use him as a scapegoat, just as the corporations did with their men. They paint Bob as a rogue agent and have his passports revoked, lock down his computer at work, and have him investigated for wrongful acts with which he was not involved.
With the advice of American energy analyst Woodman, who represents an investment advisory firm, Nasir wants to invest in his country, raise the standard of living, improve the infrastructure, set up a parliament, have an independent judiciary, and enfranchise women. But, Whiting has already primed Nasir’s corruptible brother for the throne. Nasir fights to gain the throne. Bob now has his suspicions about his assignment to kill Nasir, which are confirmed by Stan Goff (William Hurt), a former CIA boss, who points him at Whiting. He confronts and threatens Whiting, who threatens him back by saying in Washington, D. C., “In this town, you’re innocent until you’re investigated.” Bob goes to the Middle East to warn Nasir, but as he approaches the Prince’s auto caravan, an American drone missile takes Nasir out, thus making it look as if Bob succeeded in killing Nasir.
We also see the effect of what all these corporate, CIA, and political maneuverings have on the lowly people who try to eke out a living in the Middle East. The kings keep all of the money from the West to themselves, buying more and more expensive “toys,” while leaving the people to live poverty-stricken lives. Some of the impoverished are immigrant workers from Pakistan. We see the oil field laborers brutally beaten when they simply speak in a work line. One such worker in this story is the character of Wasim (Mazhar Munir). He and his pals don’t seem so foreign, talking about meeting girls, playing soccer, discussing comic book heroes. They are laid off from their jobs, but are given food and support by the local Islamic school. The religion fills the void in their lives. The teacher at the school tells them that Christianity has failed, free trade failed, liberalism failed, and the West had failed. None of these were able to get rid of the pain of living. The only solution is the merging of church and state, and belief in the Koran.
A persuasive man (Amr Waked) encounters the two friends, plays soccer with them, and says that they should not feel ashamed about being virgins, but are actually blessed for their purity. He is the same person who took possession of the missing missile from Bob. He offers them the chance to add purpose to their seemingly meaningless lives through martyrdom. He tells them that they can “flee the worldly life to spread the faith.” He points to foreigners, the people from the West, as the ones to blame for their sad lot in life, and the individuals to target (as do leaders in the West want to blame all of their problems on foreigners). Wasim and his friend steer a boat with the explosive device from the missile into a Connex-Killin oil tanker, destroying the craft. The irony here is that the same weapon that belonged to America to maintain its foreign investment is used to attack the capitalist interests it was meant to preserve. Another example of how western greedy nature comes around to harm itself is seen when Woodman, initially only wanting to capitalize on Middle East oil, brings his family for a free vacation at the Arab king’s estate in Spain, and Woodman’s son is electrocuted in the expensive pool owned by the petroleum-rich sovereign.
Here, the West’s desire for monetary gains merges with the Middle East’s leaders’ lust for wealth and power. So, the two sides must remain dependent on each other at the expense of the vast majority of the Islamic population. And that oppression creates fertile ground on which radicalism and terrorism can grow. As the character Farooq (Sonnell Dadral) says, “Capitalism cannot exist without waste.” Here, we can see how the economic system, when it is used to amass obscene amounts of wealth, can lay waste to so many people.
The next film is Mulholland Dr.