Thursday, July 13, 2006


Syriana movieGeorge Clooney Directed Stephen Gaghan
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



I felt lost in Syriana, as if I were a small rat in a huge maze.

Told through multiple storylines, the film’s focus is on oil addiction and how it affects everyone connected with it, from the hardworking Persians in the oil fields to the glutenously rich Sheiks and American tycoons. The bad thing about Syriana is that the message stands out more than the film or — unfortunately — its characters. It’s a valid message that we need to (must!) hear. We live in a global economy and that economy directly influences other nations. From Russia to China and Iran to the U.S., each action one takes will send waves through the other.

Murder and pushing business are co-mingled in Syriana as we see Bob (George Clooney plus 30 pounds) working for the CIA in the Persian Gulf. He’s never asked why he does what he does. He simply knows that he’s doing it for the good of his country. But when the U.S. turns its back on Bob, he has to make a decision, and it’s something that will change the course of his life.

Interspersed with Bob are others whose deeds end up causing deadly results. No fingers are pointed at anyone being at fault for this (one of the big bonuses of the movie), and it is this that pulls the viewer into the story. Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright, ANGELS IN AMERICA) plays an attorney searching for a way to make a large oil company merger happen without attracting legal problems. His hard work and initial goodness are muddled by the end as he discovers what he has to do in order to affect such a merger.

Byran Woodman (Matt Damon, THE BOURNE IDENTITY) is a high level financial advisor for corporate America who loses his son to an accident (?) at an Arab/American party, only to be sucked into the lives of the people responsible for his son’s death.

There are at least three other side-stories going on, but I’m not going to bother with them for one simple reason: they’re too damn confusing! And that’s the big downside to Syriana. It tries to make too many connections in too short a time. Several times I had to stop and ask myself, "Now what does this guy/gal have to do with the story again?" I’m a pretty astute viewer but several of these characters’ purposes went beyond my threshold of understanding. For instance, Danny Dalton is played by Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou), but I have no idea what his purpose was in the film. He’s got maybe two minutes of screen-time and that’s it. And Jeffrey Wright’s character (Bennett Holiday) has what I think is a father waiting for him when he gets dropped off at his house and they have some sort of angry altercation for completely unknown reasons. And Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer, THE NEW WORLD) plays a powerful political figure but how, why, and where he flexes this muscle is never shown nor explained.

Making people connections on film is fun and a basic requirement for enjoyable cinematic experiences. But if you overload your audience with these connections, the whole can seem like a bramble of fractured stories that never come to fruition. And that’s certainly the way I felt when I saw Syriana.

So why the thumbs up? Look at this: George Clooney, Christopher Plummer, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, Robert Foxworthy, Matt Damon, Alexander Siddig, Tim Blake Nelson, William Hurt, Amanda Peet, and the list goes on. Now THAT’S an ensemble cast! The acting is excellent.

The message of over-dependence on oil is something everyone in the world needs to know about and this movie certainly puts it center stage. The slimy business dealings, the underhanded political tactics, and the jihadists against Western involvement in Eastern affairs are all brought into focus without forcing the issues down our throats. Nice job.

With all of the horribly shallow films available for us to watch (
DATE MOVIE), this one certainly tips the opposite end of the scale. Just be forewarned, you may feel as though you’re in a maze with no reference points and no way out.

Click here for the Syriana movie trailer!

Oscar winner: Best Actor in a supporting role

Oscar nominated: Best Original Screenplay

Bafta Award Nominee: Best Actor in a supporting role

Golden Globe Award Winner: Best Actor in a supporting role

Golden Globe Nominee: Best Original Score -- Motion Picture


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