Docudrama, Political Thriller, Thriller
The Middle Eastern oil industry is the backdrop of this tense drama, which weaves together numerous story lines. Bennett Holiday is an American lawyer in charge of facilitating a dubious merger of oil companies, while Bryan Woodman, a Switzerland-based energy analyst, experiences both personal tragedy and opportunity during a visit with Arabian royalty. Meanwhile, veteran CIA agent Bob Barnes uncovers an assassination plot with unsettling origins.
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Director Stephen Gaghan has a mixed history in show-business. After writing such successful films as "Traffic" and "Rules of Engagement", his directorial debut was in the form of the absolutely dreadful "Abandon", starring Katie Holmes. When I say that film was a disaster, that might be the understatement of the year. While watching "Syriana", I got the feeling that this could not be the same director - not the same director that turned Katie Holmes into the most laughable villain in film history. I guess every filmmaker is entitled to his one dud. Thankfully, "Syriana" makes up for that dud in a colossal way. Not only is it one of the most entertaining and involving pieces of cinema of the year, but also the best political statement since "Fahrenheit 9/11". Gaghan has tackled the oil industry, and by doing so, the establishments involved therein. "Syriana" is a balls-to-the-wall motion picture that leaves everything out there on the table for the audience to see. It allows us to fit things together and judge for ourselves. "Syriana" was very much like "Traffic" in the way the different stories mingled together, but just barely connected on a larger level. For me, "Syriana" was a better film than "Traffic" - it tested the boundaries of how far a film could go on a topic so relevant as oil in the Middle East. It presented us with situations and characters that seem all too real. "Syriana" is one of the best films of the year, and a triumph for writer and director Stephen Gaghan.
Describing the plot of "Syriana" would take about ten paragraphs and you would likely still no understand it. Let's just say that the film revolves around the merger of two powerful oil companies into one super-company, and how that merger affects everyone, from the presidents of the companies to the workers in the Persian Gulf who are laid off unexpectedly and sent into lives of faith and desperation. George Clooney stars as CIA agent Bob Barnes, who is making his office uncomfortable by sending memos that should never be sent. Bob is finally offered a desk job and sent to Beirut to handle one more assignment, to assassinate the possible Emir, Price Nassir (Alexander Siddig), whom the United States wants to see destroyed because of his close ties with the Chinese. Matt Damon stars as Bryan Woodman, an energy analyst who gets involved with Prince Nassir as his financial adviser. Jeffrey Wright is attorney Bennett Holiday, hired by one of the oil companies to fish out some underhanded dealings. Those are the three central characters of the film - the rest hold pivotal roles, but going into all of them, in depth, would take far too long. Let's just say that you couldn't ask for a better ensemble cast than the one you are handed in "Syriana". Most of these roles are so small and inconsequential, but these actors make them so much more enjoyable just by their playing them. Robert Altman, eat your heart out. This is the cast you've dreamed about.
Now, onto the cast. George Clooney gives the performances of his career as Bob Barnes. He and Christopher Plummer share one of the greatest scenes I have seen in a while, as Bob tells him matter-of-factly that, if anything happens to him, he will take his wife and child, kill them, and hide their bodies so they will never be found. It's Clooney's calm demeanor that makes the scene so chilling. Jeffrey Wright, in yet another stellar performance, once again displays yet another range of acting talents as Bennett Holiday, the hard-nosed lawyer who learns to overcome his intimidation by the big companies. Also providing strong support are Matt Damon as the family man energy analyst and Chris Cooper as the Southern bred oil tycoon. I hate singling out some actors when every single person in this film did a phenomenal job, from Tim Blake Nelson's amazing monologue to Jeffrey Wright, to Christopher Plummer's burglar scare - just amazing actors doing what they do best with unbelievable material. Oscar nominations for George Clooney and Jeffrey Wright would certainly be warranted here... without a doubt.
If there is one complaint I have about the film, it is the character of Jeffrey Wright's father, who shows up occasionally on his front door. This character had zero relevance to the film and really gave us no deeper insight into Wright's character. He took up valuable screen time that could have been given to Clooney, who chews up every single scene he is in. Also, the detail paid to the young workers in the encampment was a little too strong, I thought. Their transformation from worker to zealot was not visible enough for most people and I found it a little too average. Once again, I wanted to see more of Clooney's character, or more between Alexander Siddig and Matt Damon. But, when those are the only two complaints on a film, I think that's a good start. "Syriana" made me want to know more about the oil industry. It made me wonder as to what is really going on behind our backs and how many people are dying to keep it secret. Most of these characters seem so real because they really are - how difficult is it to believe that this film is not being played out somewhere right now, under our noses? "Syriana" raises some touch and controversial questions and does a decent enough job of answering them. If there are any left unanswered, it is up to the audience to seek them out for themselves.
- added 12/20/2005, 02:50 PM
Syriana was incredible; saw it opening night.
The best thing about this movie, though, was that
it *WASN'T* like Fahrenheit 9/11, which might've
been the most laughable attempt at anti-Bush
propaganda ever presented. Micheal More only
really accomplished proving how little he knows
about politics in general, even if the movie did
have several redeeming factors. It was like using
arm-floats to keep the Titanic from sinking,
though. Syriana's the complete opposite. Here,
you get to take in everything from every side
possible; it's not a matter of yellow journalism.
The Taranteno progression also helped to put
things into perspective. (Spoiler potential)
Especially during moments like when Bob walked
away from the car bomb unflinched, just to lead
into the next scene which woiuld've featured an
out-of-work oil-field employee. It's a fairly
radical switch in perogative, but it works to keep
things into a broadened and open-minded context.
Amazing movie in the end.
- added 12/20/2005, 11:56 PM
Boy, I really thought we were in agreement
whole-heatedly until your little tyrade against
Michael Moore. "Fahrenheit 9/11" was an
incredible documentary. It accomplished
everything Moore wanted it to accomplish and it
really did show what kind of a person George W.
Bush is and was. It is also the most profitable
documentary of all-time, and will likely never be
matched. For a documentary to gross 100+ million
is unheard of. It was a fine piece of filmmaking
and Michael Moore is a one of a kind director, and
this is me saying this with all politics aside.
As a documentary only, the film was
amazing...alas...not as amazing as "Syriana",
which will hopefully be rewarded come Oscar time.