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…
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.
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
|Syriana...Not too sure?|
Great beginning, great end but no middle. It knew where it wanted to go, but wasn't sure how to get there. Clooney was average and didn't deserve the oscar. And I hate films that assume good muslims are the ones who are likely to terrorise others. What crap! Terrorism has nothing to do with religion, it is just a fuel for it. ... More
Posted by Dirtycaah at 10:39, 13 March 2006 | Report This Post
Bloody marvellous. George Clooney was superb as Bob and Matt Damon inspirational. What we did not know about the oil world we do now!! Exceptional. ... More
Posted by olihiggy at 20:16, 12 March 2006 | Report This Post
Just wanted to put in a good word for Alexander Siddig, who was excellent but whose performance has been overlooked by critics due to being surrounded by so many acting heavyweights. ... More
Posted by Juliette at 12:18, 12 March 2006 | Report This Post
Okay but can be boring and dull at times espescially the first hour, Matt Damon and Amanda Peet were amazing as the couple who lost their child. ... More
Posted by Naweed_1 at 12:07, 12 March 2006 | Report This Post
Syriana, is always intelligent, occasionaly thrilling and overwhelmingly complicated. The vast cast and interweaving story lines prove very difficult to keep track of, and the pacing is muddled, and as a result the whole affair is somewhat soporific. Gaghan's sole aim seems to be to show how politically corrupt the american oil industry is. This would be fine if he actually invested some emotional depth into to his myriad of characters at the same time, yet they all seem strangely bland, meaning... More
Posted by Grandma Death at 23:56, 11 March 2006 | Report This Post
I've never seen so many people looking at their watch. ... More
Posted by antdaviesuk at 22:56, 11 March 2006 | Report This Post
Critic friendly, but hardly involving. A film full of monologues. Still if you need to know how awful the world we live in is and how ruthless we all are then enjoy. ... More
Posted by Gold Digger at 21:14, 11 March 2006 | Report This Post
| RE: Syriana|
I enjoyed the film but got a little irritated by the constant monologues from characters explaining about the oil industry. I felt a little preached at, not a film with a light touch.
However the performances were good (although I am not sure George deserved an oscar) and there was some genuine suspense. I'd give it 3/5. ... More
Posted by King_Wah at 23:33, 09 March 2006 | Report This Post
| RE: Syriana|
This film has a LOT going for it, not the least of which is the performances. Excellent accross the board. It was interesting in an intellectual sort of way, but I did find myself yawning and shifting around more than I usually do at the cinema. I am not sure how the subject matter could have been covered in a film any more 'excitingly' without sacrificing realism however, and I think that they made the right decision going for slow burn.
If you are the sort of p... More
Posted by riversbend at 19:15, 09 March 2006 | Report This Post
| RE: Syriana|
If there is one thing I would say about this film it is that is has made me want to go away and read around the subject matter. Certainly I don't think the film covered enough to get a grasp on the situation, but then with something as complex as this, no amount of movie time could ever do it justice or give the attention to detail that it needs. ... More
Posted by Shawlord at 14:39, 09 March 2006 | Report This Post
| RE: Not your typical Clooney movie|
3"] 3"]Writer/director Steven Gaghan certainly doesn't shy away from the big subjects in the world today. Having written the excellent drugs drama "Traffic" which Steven Soderburgh tuned to perfection, Gaghan took up the enviable task of directing his next script, another multi-level tapestry, this time concentrating on the part oil plays in global politics. The movie revolves around a merger between two American oil compan... More
Posted by Hamish at 20:16, 08 March 2006 | Report This Post
| RE: Not your typical Clooney movie|
While I did rate the film, I think there were a few problems with it.
The most obvious non-spoiler one is Damon's character. He was very good but the character itself was very obviously and artificially there solely for the purposes of exposition. And that blatant shoehorning did damage the film in my eyes.
Tim Blake Nelson, as well, seemed to be there just to voice a point of view but with no real reason apart from that.
And *spoiler* so white text
Posted by elab49 at 17:01, 08 March 2006 | Report This Post
| RE: Not your typical Clooney movie|
Just saw it at a press viewing and i liked it a lot. It had a great ensamble cast ( I actually liked it more than Crashs cast witch was also great). I liked the political tone of the film and really enjoyed the film as a whole. Cloony was great (still voting for Jake though) and he did earn his award. Also the thing that I found nice about this film was the fact that Matt Damon didn't irritate me like he usually does. ... More
Posted by jeanne at 15:24, 08 March 2006 | Report This Post
|Not your typical Clooney movie|
I only watched this to see if Clooney was worthy of his Oscar, I was pleasently suprised by both the film and Clooneys excellent performance. I think that we have become so used to the Clooney we saw at the Oscar ceremony that you do at times forget what a damn fine actor he is as well.
Posted by chevychase at 14:51, 08 March 2006 | Report This Post
| RE: Crude Oil|
Went to see this yesterday. A very good film with absolutely brilliant performances, not just from the lead roles but in particular the migrant workers from Pakistan. Their story got you thinking from the beginning until the end and was not merely a distraction but an important message to get across. I'll admit the pace is slow and sometimes confusing but stick with it and all will become clear. ... More
Posted by wackojacko at 09:15, 07 March 2006 | Report This Post
| RE: Crude Oil|
the movie was pretty good n dealt wiv an important subject: oil.
but i dont think George Clooney deserved the oscar for it, he was great but there were better nominees.
(sorry 4 going of da point) ... More
Posted by Movie Dude at 12:08, 06 March 2006 | Report This Post
This is quickly becoming the year of George Clooney. After the rapturous acclaim which greeted his ht, and Good Lucks followed it up by co-producing and starring in er ultra-serious, politically-driven film. These combined efforts have garnered a number of Oscar nominations and people have been falling over themselves to bestow the highest praise on Clooney for his intelligence, bravery and vision.
In the publicity which has surrounded both ht, and Good Luck]Syrianaey has stated in a numbe... More
Posted by Philconcannon at 22:22, 05 March 2006 | Report This Post
Kudos to the writer/director and those brave individuals who partcipated in the making of this movie! It's high time we had an accurate portrayal of what really goes on in the middle east. Everyone should go see it. ... More
Posted by avidmoviewatcher at 21:15, 04 March 2006 | Report This Post
| RE: Syriana|
I went to see it today and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though as said above it never did get out of first gear but films like this are not meant to be rushed and can be analyzed too much. It is based on so many evens around the world and this is giving us a little insight into what really is going on.
I thought the performance from George was unusual as we see more of him playing the cool, sophisticated type character; remind me of Richard Burton in his glory days.
But a film like this and tra... More
Posted by nybras at 20:54, 04 March 2006 | Report This Post
in my opinion this was one of the most boring and isignificant film i've ever seen, unless you want to waste £4 going to see it i would really advise you to steer well clear ... More
Posted by lyyyle at 19:52, 04 March 2006 | Report This Post
|The trailer ruins it.|
This is a classic example of when the trailer for a motion picture tells the audience way too much! Most of the hard-hitting dialogue from the film is included in the trailer, and the images that are used in the trailer completely tarnish scenes in the actual film that are supposed to be shocking or suspenseful.
It is a very intelligent film, but I did not enjoy it. It seemed to plod along at an incredibly slow pace and never really got out of first gear for me. Basically, because of what I sa... More
Posted by Nandroid at 16:47, 04 March 2006 | Report This Post
More films need to be like this, Crash was great as it jumped well, and this is better. The end was great, but a little sad, but in general, amazing. ... More
Posted by Ethanial at 15:56, 04 March 2006 | Report This Post
|Thank God for grown up film-making.|
I pray that more movies are made like this that also get pushed to such a wide audience instead of the usual derivative, insipid stuff that fills multiplexes today.
It's intelligent, it makes you think about what's going on and it's extremely relevant to the world we live in today. The whole cast are excellent, there's not a bad performance from any of them. ... More
Posted by VincentHanna at 14:47, 04 March 2006 | Report This Post
Modern cinema meets classic history ... More
Posted by taz_e at 12:07, 27 February 2006 | Report This Post