For the past year the bald, ugly facts of the world we now live in have finally begun bubbling out from under the crust of officially sponsored bullshit that until recently constituted reality for many Americans. However, since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and Hurricane Cindy Sheehan hit Crawford, Texas, Pandora's box has been irrevocably opened, the bats and rats of actuality pouring out of it on a daily basis: unfathomable incompetence and corruption, a Veep defending torture, Plamegate metastasizing hourly; a 360-degree cyclorama of corruption and deceit - and the media can scarcely avoid showing it. It took a while but, man, it's been worth the wait.
However, during the same period we've had to wait for the movies to reflect this new dispensation. Investigative reporters and bloggers can turn on a dime in response to breaking events. Hollywood, by contrast, has the turning circle of an oceangoing liner, and is compromised by the sheer cost of its product. Still, it's beginning to happen. All year, reality has been languishing in the subtext of popular movies. George Romero offered a mordant satire of the American economy and class system, and even Spielberg mildly interrogated the official version in War of the Worlds. Elsewhere, movies like Jarhead and Good Night and Good Luck, and TV shows like Over There and Sleeper Cell have expressed a mild, sometimes historically displaced, yet oddly apolitical dissidence.
But now comes Syriana, which directly confronts the ways in which Big Oil has corrupted politics, purchased an administration, and profoundly endangered us all. Written by Traffic screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, it mingles numerous strands of narrative to create an awesome picture of evil, corruption and violence. Texas oilmen dominate the political process; emirs who promise the very Middle East democratic reform America claims to be fighting for are murdered by unmanned CIA planes because of their plans to offer cheap oil; honest CIA agents like George Clooney's character are sidelined and betrayed; federal regulators do just enough regulating to appear honest; and Pakistani guestworkers in Middle East oil refineries are exploited and drawn toward terrorism. As one character says, "Corruption keeps us safe and warm" - a perfect "greed is good"-style mantra for the Bush era. Syriana is full of pleasurable details, including some ticklesome character names: Leland Janus, Mr Whiting, and Pope - gentlemen oil barons, the latter residing on his "777 Ranch" stocked with pronghorn antelope to satiate his hunting rifle. Oil companies have names like Killen or - love this - Gaia Oil Exploration.
Despite all of this, and because of its refusal to simplify itself to death, Syriana may sometimes feel to the apolitical viewer a little like homework. Not so Joe Dante's Homecoming, a joyously scabrous, ranting mini-movie for the Showtime cable network's Masters of Horror series, in which dead Iraq veterans burst out of their flag-draped coffins and start walking towards Washington, where evil politicians and their grotesque pundits are working for re-election. Turns out the unkillable GI's merely wish to vote the bums who sent them to war out of office. Once they vote, they expire.
Enjoying final cut and a nothing budget, Dante has spilled his vituperation onto the screen unalloyed, and the result is splendidly vicious and partisan. Its caricatures of Karl Rove ("Kurt Rand") and fascistic blonde bag-of-bones Ann Coulter ("Jan Cleaver") are unapologetically coruscating, and the sight of a uniformed zombie dashing Bush's Brain's brains out proves deeply satisfying. Made up of errant bits of the zeitgeist - cable news fascism, censored military funerals, irate Iraq vets running for Congress - cobbled together for maximum satirical impact, Homecoming comes on like Roger Corman's Syriana. And as often happens with Cormanesque ventures, the cheesy, no-budget entry often kicks the well-funded studio equivalent's ass. Oh, when we dead awaken, indeed ...
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005