Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
100 Greatest Videos Games Of All Time
Robin Williams: The Big Interview
Empire Visits The Hobbit's VFX Team
Nick Frost:
My Movie Life

The World's End star's pick of the flicks
4Music's Size Does Matter
Introducing your new favourite app
Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
Click poster to enlarge
More posters to select

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
George Clooney
Matt Damon
Jeffrey Wright
Mazhar Munir
Alexander Siddig
Christopher Plummer
Amanda Peet.
Directors
Stephen Gaghan.
Screenwriters
Stephen Gaghan.
Running Time
128 minutes

LATEST FILM REVIEWS
Attila Marcel
3 Star Empire Rating
They Came Together
3 Star Empire Rating
Island Of Lemurs: Madagascar
3 Star Empire Rating
Life Of Crime
3 Star Empire Rating
Internet's Own Boy: The Story Of Aaron Swartz, The
4 Star Empire Rating



5 STAR REVIEWS
Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, The
5 Star Empire Rating
Two Days, One Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Some Like It Hot
5 Star Empire Rating
A Hard Day's Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Boyhood
5 Star Empire Rating

Syriana
Syriana tackles BIG subjects — the Middle East, US and oil among others.


submit to reddit


Plot
US access to dwindling Middle East oil resources is a multi-billion-dollar problem that affects everyone: financial brokers (Damon), CIA officers (Clooney), corporate lawyers (Wright), and even poor Pakistani immigrants like Wasim Khan (Munir) who travel to Saudi Arabia seeking work, and find only the teachings of radical Islam…


Review
Syriana
Browse more images »

When Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney set up their Section 8 production company in 2000, they took as their benchmark American cinema from 1964 to 1976, specifically the comparatively overlooked output of studio stalwarts Sydney Pollack, Alan J. Pakula and Sidney Lumet. Mainstream movies like All The President’s Men, Three Days Of The Condor and Network were assembled according to evergreen genre guidelines, and yet at the same time were daring liberal commentaries on Nixon’s America, pictures that could not have emerged at any other time.

Until recently, Section 8’s mission statement has been little more than a theoretical gold standard, the sort of lofty promise that allows two well-heeled insiders to dabble in offbeat fare like Far From Heaven. However, with the release of Stephen Gaghan’s audacious Syriana, hard on the heels of Clooney’s own stealth weapon Good Night, And Good Luck, it’s become clear that the gold standard is no longer hypothetical. The world has shifted significantly in the last three years and it’s no longer artistic ideals that America urgently requires, but idealistic artists.

Although Syriana shares DNA with the great ’70s conspiracy thrillers and a common purpose with Clooney’s companion picture Good Night…, the movie it’s most clearly patterned after is Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, which won Gaghan a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2001. Like the drug trade Traffic carefully picked apart, Syriana tackles a BIG subject — US reliance on foreign oil — by weaving together small stories. By entangling flawed individuals at every level of a complex network, each side of the debate is given a recognisable face.

Of the various faces on show, Clooney’s beard-and-bloat disguise has unsurprisingly hogged the acting plaudits, but the actor puts in an unselfish producer’s performance here; his low-key CIA veteran is visibly uncomfortable on centre stage. Indeed, each of the four main protagonists are unassuming bit-players who must tap hitherto unseen resources if they are to ever shape their destiny. Scenery-chewing is left to the distinguished supporting cast, notably the redoubtable trio of Christopher Plummer, Chris Cooper and William Hurt, plus two faces familiar from British TV — Mark Strong and Alexander Siddig, as a terrorist-for-hire and idealistic prince respectively.

As the story ranges over three continents and the faces multiply, there’s much to admire and even more to absorb in every scene. However, the problem with this kind of narrative tapestry is that the audience is offered heaps of thread and asked to take on faith the grand design.

For much of the opening hour it remains hard to divine anything more than thematic tissue connecting the storylines, and many will pine for the narrative clarity Soderbergh’s experience as editor and cinematographer brought to the superior Traffic.

Still, as soon as the various protagonists attempt to take charge of their own fate, the net suddenly draws tighter and the stories converge in both surprising and tragically predictable ways. As the movie accelerates into a breathless final act, salient details are left behind (none of the personal particulars amount to anything significant), and the narrative never quite justifies the roots-of-terror thread that is central to Gaghan’s thesis, but by the time you can recall the forgotten faces the momentum is irresistible, the climax shattering.


Verdict
Gaghan’s second movie throws light on a shadowy subject that’s shaping the world we live in now. Demanding, even confusing at times, this is required viewing that requires your full attention.


Reviewed by Colin Kennedy


Related Reviews
Books
See No Evil
 
Sounds
Syriana
 

Write Your Review
To write your review please login or register.

Your Reviews

Average user rating for Syriana
Empire Star Rating

Syriana.

An intrepid, excruciatingly brilliant and powerfully shattering movie about power, corruption and lies. Gaghan's directing/writing is stupendous, the acting is terrific; all the movie is amazing. It is a film, definitely, to be seen. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 20:48, 21 March 2008 | Report This Post


Syriana

Riding on the wave of new politically minded Hollywood output, with its poster boy George Clooney on board, "Syriana" looked to be an intelligent, thoughtful thriller that confronted the important issue of America's reliance on oil. It does in fact confront that issue quite well, but it is not intelligent, thoughtful or thrilling. Clooney plays Bob Barnes, a CIA operative used for dangerous missions in the middle east. The film partially follows his struggles after he is kidnapped on a... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JoeOE18 at 14:21, 30 August 2007 | Report This Post


I think people feel like they should find this film very intelligent and topical. It felt like it was written and edited by a child. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Silvertouch at 22:56, 15 August 2007 | Report This Post


Thank god I wasn't the only one confused!

Half the time I had no idea who exactly the people were and what they were doing, and I REALLY concentrated too. As a result, I got most of the story by the end but had to come online to figure out the rest. Seems like a brilliant story and idea, but poorly narrated in its direction. As a result, a mere 3 stars from me. If you haven't seen it yet - its hard work, but worth it if you seek out clarification afterwards. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by discodave101 at 14:18, 20 July 2007 | Report This Post


I really enjoyed this film, and felt it brought up a WHOLE heap of good points of the Oil corruption etc in the middle east, however, it is cut so fast that you need to be making notes throughout just to know who is who and what is going on. Its not a film you watch to unwind, and it certainly expects its viewer to already have a substaintial amount of knowledge of Middle East Politics etc before watching. The only downpoint to the film, is on hindsight, it seems to be saying that all the middle... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ukedge87 at 20:15, 16 February 2007 | Report This Post


just got bored of this film well before it was over ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 18:46, 10 January 2007 | Report This Post


jellypocket

After trying to watch this 3 times I was thinking perhaps I needed to hand back my A Levels and my Degree, I am relieved to know I am not alone. Not one for watching after a glass or two of the vino collapso! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jellypocket at 12:23, 24 November 2006 | Report This Post


decent

This is a film that i think should be brilliant. Instead its only ok due to the fact that it is very confusing. Some good scenes that are thought provoking. The main problem with this is miss a minute and the film will not make any sense. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by solid snake at 17:41, 19 November 2006 | Report This Post


... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by duncansby at 23:02, 05 August 2006 | Report This Post


RE: Syriana

an enjoyable political drama, that was at times nearly a little too tough to follow, but hey all this oil/politics business is like that though, all very covert, nobody knows whos doing who for what or why a lot of the time, but yes it could have been a little bit clearer at times. but excellent performances and intriguing all the way. id agree with BENWATSON, surely most people who thought it was boring knew they going to watch a political drama before hand? its not the sort of film for every... More

Posted by boot at 15:18, 15 July 2006 | Report This Post


RE: Syriana

finally got round to seeing this on DVD. A complex, thought-provoking film, even if it does struggle to maintian focus and keep control of all its different story strands. Without a doubt, the film's biggest strength is its acting. George Clooney, Jeffery Wright and Alexander Siddig are the standouts, but not one of the actors puts a foot wrong. Each of their stories presents a different angle on the complex oil/business/government/economy interests across the glob... More

Posted by MOTH at 22:36, 13 July 2006 | Report This Post


Syriana

Hi, We just saw this film last night and thought it was FANTASTIC..At last a film for adults that requires a bit of thinking.Well acted and a really compelling storyline that was made better by the way it was told.I am at a loss reading some of the reviews below..This is really important film making which exposes an underbelly of Western society which is just terryfying.All in all Brilliant..More Please! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jackswaysland at 07:40, 13 July 2006 | Report This Post


syriana

Many people have posted reviews about how boring this film is. It may be that they are just not interested in the subject matter as much as me, but i understood all of the film completely. I didn't feel preached at either, which was important. Great and important film ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BENWATSON at 13:03, 12 July 2006 | Report This Post


What the hell was that about

What is the connection between the four people? what country is Matt Damon in? Why is twenty minutesof the film spent in a board meeting? Why is George Clooney trying to save the prince and why does America want him dead? Why is the film as long as it is? and more importantly why did I spend good money to see such a boring and confusing film? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Film25:17 at 12:19, 18 June 2006 | Report This Post


Complex and thought-provoking

The similarities between Syriana and Traffic are almost overpowering. For a start, it's written and directed by Traffic scribe Stephen Gaghan; it borrows Traffic's episodic structure, with a number of disparate stories briefly intersecting; and it throws its spotlight on a dark and shady aspect of America's socio-political life, one the powers that be wish to keep buried. It's not quite as successful in its aims as Traffic, however, and some of that may be down to Gaghan not being quite as big ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by britesparc at 21:04, 06 April 2006 | Report This Post


Hmm. Not great

This film could have been so much better...if only it had been told as a straight story instead of all the different elements. Half way through I was bored wondering what the fuck was going on. Got interested after the torture scene and the rest was OK but can't help feeling disappointed. A good story too and some interesting points brought up though. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by trueborndjross at 00:01, 01 April 2006 | Report This Post


Erm...sorry what?

It dealt with some contraversial and pertintent issues in our current political climate. That i can understand, what i couldnt understand was...oh yeah...any of the rest of the film! dont get me wrong, i'm not thick and i did do my best to get my head round the m ultitude of intertwining plot lines. But it was all to much to do along with a quarter of it with subtitles. overcomplicated, difficult and overrated. But at least the academy proved their shallowness by giving old george the sympathy v... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by drunkmunky33 at 14:41, 28 March 2006 | Report This Post


RE: i liked it

Confussing but compelling is how I would sum up how I feel about this film. There is a lot going on in Syriana. A lot of different storylines, a lot of people, a lot of names, a lot of faces, a lot of places. Unlike in other films I've seen like Crash or Magnolia the threads don't all magically tie up at the end, they loosely tie together, but you are left feeling that there really are a lot of individual stories going on here. The problem with this is that it is very easy to forget who is... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Satine at 19:12, 22 March 2006 | Report This Post


i liked it

without a doubt not the easyiest film to follow and to be honest if i watched it 3 times they would probably be parts of it i still dont understand! BUT i liked it and will watch it agan & again until i get it! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ryan1983 at 16:39, 21 March 2006 | Report This Post


i liked it

without a doubt not the easyiest film to follow and to be honest if i watched it 3 times they would probably be parts of it i still dont understand! BUT i liked it and will watch it agan & again until i get it! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ryan1983 at 16:38, 21 March 2006 | Report This Post


Very dissapointing. It failed to make me even slightly intersted, moved or angry. I relly couldn't care less. I didn'd expect to agree with what this movie has to say, but i at least expected to have something to think about and argue with. But i didn't get anything. Yet another movie that I wished would end long before it did. Very, very dissapointing. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kachna_ff at 12:52, 20 March 2006 | Report This Post


Flacid

This film is utter pelt. They don't tell you who anybody is nor what on Earth they are doing for the first 1hr 30 mins. The fools among you may think this film is intelligent, well it's not, it is just really obtuse and difficult to follow. 12 Monkeys was difficult to follow, but there was a purpose behind that. There is no purpose behind this drivel whatsoever. The turd acting does not help. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mingmong9 at 13:05, 19 March 2006 | Report This Post


Solid, but.....

I watched Syriana, in a FULL cinema, and I have enjoyed it very much, the film has it's pitfalls, and it is far from perfect. well lets face it ..it ain't Traffic, but........the narrative is so fragmented, and the charachter arcs are so complex, I felt it needed another 15 mins, YES YES YES..ANOTHER 15 MINS!.....to build up on motivation, especially for the (young muslim), and to explore the crooked paths the big corporations are willing to take. Unlike Munich, the film wasn't afraid of the mes... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by omarx at 21:50, 15 March 2006 | Report This Post


Confused? You will be!

What a mess this film is. It tries too hard to state its message, and just ends up being pretentious guff as a result. If you can follow the story, such as it is, then good luck to you. But I had no idea what most characters names were, let alone what their part in the plot was, so ended up not really caring about anyone. I can't believe George Clooney got Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for this, since he just reverted to type, playing Dr Ross from ER although he was meant to be a veteran C... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dan Howe at 14:10, 13 March 2006 | Report This Post


RE: Crude Oil

L: Philconcannon  I was so far outside the drama at that point that nothing was going to drag me back in. orrible mess; its depth is an illusion and it spends two long hours hopping around the globe in self-important fashion, randomly losing subplots as it travels, and never saying anything of significance. Gaghan presents us with the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but then keeps moving them around as we try to assemble them; and by the time he finally began putting things together in the... More

Posted by Alvin Stardust at 10:42, 13 March 2006 | Report This Post


More user comments

SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
The Many Deaths Of Sean Bean
The actor talks us through his on-screen offings

Rogues Gallery: Powers Boothe
Sin City's Roark talks us through his most memorable baddies

Richard Attenborough: In Celebration
Saluting a man who made a lasting impact on cinema and beyond…

Exclusive: Luc Besson Talks Lucy
'There is no bullshit with Scarlett Johansson'

Video: Daniel Radcliffe Talks What If...
On Gordon Ramsay, swearing and date movies

The 24 Best Film-Related Ice Bucket Challenges
The viral craze that won’t quit takes in some of Hollywood’s finest

Who Shot First? The Complete List Of Star Wars Changes
An exhaustive chronology of George Lucas' post-release tinkering

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 6 Issues Of Empire For Only £15!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)