2005 - R - 126 min. Mins.
|Director: Stephen Gaghan|
|Producer: George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh, Jeff Skoll, Ben Cosgrove|
|Written By: Stephen Gaghan|
|Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Christopher Plummer, Chris Cooper, Amanda Peet, Alexander Siddig |
|Review by: Ben Samara
|Official Site: www.syrianamovie.warnerbros.com/|
A funny thing happened to me on the way home tonight. As I left the local theater following an evening screening of ‘Syriana,’ I was convinced I didn’t like the film. But as the 20-minute drive home progressed, certain scenes and questions began to come back to me. By the time I arrived home, my opinion of ‘Syriana’ had shifted from negative to fairly positive.
‘Syriana’ is a movie that continues to grow on you long after the lights come up. I can’t say I completely get everything that went on, but I’m certainly intrigued. This is a film that is hard to get a read on at first glance, but that will likely improve with additional viewings. Academy Award-winning screenwriter Stephen Gaghan has crafted a story that, if nothing else, will raise questions and spark spirited discussions. It’s in that vein that the film succeeds, even if it falls short in a number of other areas.
Like Gaghan’s other successful screenplay, ‘Traffic,’ ‘Syriana’ deals with several parallel storylines all confronting the same issue. This time, the topic in question is oil and its effect on those that try to control it. ‘Syriana’ confronts many oil-related issues, including money hungry politicians, corrupt executives, and the difficult battle between potential peace in the Middle East and our national interest in its oil.
In the film, George Clooney plays a CIA operative whose morals begin to conflict with the establishment. After devoting his life to serving his country, he quickly begins to realize he is not the first priority.
At the same time, a corporate lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) is faced with the task of investigating the potential merger of two of the biggest oil companies on the United States, while oil broker Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) tries to negotiate a major deal with a potential Gulf prince.
These three storylines are just a handful of the sub-plots littering ‘Syriana.’ And while ‘Traffic’ succeeded in effectively handling its characters, Gaghan – who also directed the ‘Syriana’ – can not duplicate the achievement here. This time around, the sub-plots are far less succinct and he has trouble managing the many plot elements. Gaghan’s direction doesn’t kill the movie, but it doesn’t improve his screenplay either. Steven Soderbergh, who directed ‘Traffic’ and executive produced this film, probably would have been a smarter choice.
As it is, none of the sub-plots seem completely developed. We’re never given enough time with any one character to fully understand the reasons for their actions. Some scenes would have been better served with an extra minute or two, while others could have been cut short or left out completely to make room for the more important material.
Despite this, Clooney and Damon manage to shine in nearly every scene. Clooney will receive a lot of attention for deglamorizing himself for this role, and he certainly has the most exciting material to deal with as well. It’s the underrated Damon, though, who gives the most heartfelt performance as oil broker Bryan Woodman. At the center of his internal conflict is the twisted state of affairs where human life has become a bartering chip for oil. In Woodman’s case, the issue has hit a little too close to home.
Both actors are at the heart of a riveting and memorable final act, which makes up for a rather lackluster first two thirds. As ‘Syriana’ reaches its climax, we aren’t treated to a shocking revelation, as is the norm in today’s cinema. Instead, we merely begin to realize that things are, in fact, exactly what they seemed to be from the start. In the end, that is sometimes more shocking than any twist could be.