Reading the Sight & Sound review of Syriana (handily on-line here) you get the feeling that reviewer Ryan Gilbey did not want to like the film from the off. And I don’t really have a problem with that. A review is very much a negotiation of the text with the prejudices and tastes of the reviewer. Interestingly what this review manages to articulate better that most reviews I have read, is exactly what is so good about Syriana. The fact that so much is happening, much of it a bit half-hearted, slap-dash and open for criticism. So you want to notice how there are only really two female speaking roles. Its a valid critique. The torture happens to an American, rather than the current way of the world? Spot on.

Gilbey also tries to insinuate that Gaghan’s direction is lousy however, and there he falls into patchy territory. Not because Gaghan is particularly good, but rather Gaghan has written a pretty director-proof screenplay. One imagines that the shooting script made clear that everyone needed a moral ambiguity. It certain follows in soundtrack decisions which distance and occasionally disorientate.

The best thing about Syriana is that it isn’t that good. And it does not pretend to be anything like a comprehensive last word on the oil situation. Indeed the futile fumblings of its cast (and perhaps its crew) mirror the situation and create an incomplete big issue. There are good guys, there are bad guys, but they rarely stay that way and it is just a matter of opinion. Perhaps the secret of Syriana is that right wing, isolationist Americans could watch it, and see it as a justification of all they do, as much as left wing environmentalists.