With Its Simple Message, Complexity of "Syriana" Is Ironic
- Monday, June 26, 2006
Release Date: June 20, 2006
Rating: R (for violence and language)
Run Time: 128 min.
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Based on the Book by: Robert Baer
Actors: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, William Hurt, Christopher Plummer, Mazir Munir, Tim Blake Nelson, Alexander Siddig, Amanda Peet
Before you begin watching this DVD, make sure to refill your drink and visit the bathroom. No talking, either, or you’ll miss one of the mind-boggling plot points. In fact, come to think of it, you may not even want to blink.
Bob Barnes (George Clooney) is a CIA agent with a specialty in Middle Eastern politics. After unloading two Stinger missiles in Tehran (and in one of the film’s main trailer moments), he assassinates a couple of arms dealers with a fiery explosion. The only problem is, one of the missiles has just been carted off by a mysterious Arab.
Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) is an energy trading analyst who lives in Geneva, Switzerland, with his wife (Amanda Peet) and children. After a tragic accident, Woodman connects with Prince Nassir (Alexander Siddig), a progressive thinker who has recently awarded a contract to the Chinese for drilling rights in his oil-rich, Gulf country. Partly to assuage his guilt toward Woodman, but also to fulfill his dream of rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, Nassir hires Woodman as a financial consultant. Woodman sees Nassir as an “ATM on his front lawn,” but his wife is disgusted.
After Nassir’s decision to work with the Chinese, Connex, a mammoth Texas oil company, decides to merge with Killen, a smaller company that has recently obtained drilling rights in Kazakhstan. Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer) heads the D.C. legal firm charged with making sure the merger goes through. While Nassir wines and dines the Chinese, Whiting capitalizes on the failing health of Nassir’s father. He begins negotiating with Nassir’s younger brother to return drilling rights to the U.S., in exchange for making him, rather than Nassir, the next emir.
The Justice Department, assuming that corruption must be involved, begins to investigate and believes they have found the evidence they need. Then the CIA charges Barnes with taking out Nassir. But when plans go awry, Barnes ends up as a rogue agent. Meanwhile, a fired Pakistani oil worker is being seduced by a malevolent cleric in a local madrassa, which doubles as a terrorist training ground. Suddenly, the missing Stinger appears.
Written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, who won an Oscar for his excellent “Traffic” screenplay, “Syriana” is Gaghan’s second directorial effort but just one of the many films and hit television shows that he has written (most notably, “Hill Street Blues”). In “Traffic,” Gaghan explored the multitude of people who grow, harvest, transport, distribute, buy and police drugs, using a jigsaw puzzle-like approach where everything comes together in the end. “Syriana” is equally fast-paced with a multitude of interweaving plots and characters. But, while the non-linear storytelling worked with “Traffic,” it does not here. “Syriana” has so many characters and plot lines that audiences are likely to be confused throughout the film, and perhaps even afterwards as well.
Like “Traffic,” there is good dialogue. Take, for example, a passionate speech about corruption. “Corruption is why we are warm and safe,” says a lawyer. “Corruption is why we are warm and fed. Corruption is why you and I are here, prancing around, rather than fighting each other for scraps of meat in the street. Corruption is why we win.” In another scene, yet another D.C. lawyer quips, “In this town, you’re innocent until you’re investigated.” And a would-be terrorist jokes, “If man is made in God’s image, then God is deeply messed up.”
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