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Overall Rating
3.47

Awesome: 24.46%
Worth A Look30.94%
Average: 19.42%
Pretty Bad: 17.27%
Total Crap: 7.91%

12 reviews, 67 user ratings


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Syriana
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by William Goss

"That's Oil, Folks!"
2 stars

When you break it down, the political drama 'Syriana' is to 'Traffic' what 'Zathura' was to 'Jumanji.' It is practically the same story, chronicling the interactions of several figures on an international scale in the process of getting what they want, just with a different business in its sights (in 'Traffic,' the focus was on the drug trade; in this, oil makes the world go round). However, 'Syriana' fails to engage the viewer on the same level as its predecessor, instead opting to substitute a stream of statistics for an absorbing story and intriguing characters.

The story follows a prince (Alexander Siddig) who looks to reform the oil commerce in his country by granting drilling rights to the Chinese, striking a blow to American oil giant Connex and causing them to merge with the smaller Killen, as they have the rights to prime territory in Kazakhstan. The merger is supervised by Washington attorney Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright), whose investigation needs to be thorough enough to please the Justice Department, yet without compromising the entire deal in the process. The mission of CIA agent Bob Barnes (George Clooney) is to assassinate the prince to ensure that his more agreeable brother is heir to the throne. However, his assignment soon unravels and he becomes a scapegoat for the agency as a result. After a tragedy at the prince’s party, energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) is offered a position as the prince’s personal advisor concerning his oil strategy, eventually disappointing his mournful wife (Amanda Peet) when he accepts it.

There is also an entire subplot concerning laid-off Connex workers who are drafted into a terrorist group, but it is apparent that, even if oil is running out, there’s plenty of plot to go around. However, not all the information is provided, and not all the pieces fit perfectly, because it is unrealistic to believe that one person can take in the whole picture. Even when the grand scheme of things isn’t obvious, a film can still hit the ground running and produce a satisfying result (David Mamet’s recent political thriller, Spartan, comes to mind). Nonetheless, Syriana is unsuccessful in giving its story enough force to compensate for the missing patches, and the entire movie drags as a result.

Writer/director Stephan Gaghan treats his characters like pawns, which they may be in the plot but shouldn’t be to the audience. While certain scenes, particularly a torture sequence and the synchronized climax of every thread, are undeniably potent, they neglect to strike the viewer as much as they should. It would seem that each and every script was replaced by a government report on oil and the shady dealings behind it, and as credible as the arguments may sound, the dialogue rings hollow, and to say that talking heads stop making sense would be an understatement. The dilemma of Syriana is quite similar to that of The Constant Gardener, where a surplus of facts is supposed to compensate for character development or a compelling narrative.

The ensemble cast does the best it can, working with a wet blanket of a screenplay. Clooney, Damon, and Wright all deliver suitable performances, while Chris Cooper makes his third decent supporting appearance in recent months as a Texas oil tycoon. Siddig is eerily confident as the prince of the conveniently nameless Middle Eastern nation, but quite an irritating misstep arrives in the form of Tim Blake Nelson, who just barely shows up to spit out a most gratuitous rant about the importance of corruption in the world of politics.

For being a message movie in disguise, the last thing this film does is preach. Even if it did, the numbing semantics would kill any shot the underlying significance has to reach its target. To see a film like 'Syriana' be so rich yet so poor at the same time is like watching a pipe dream slowly leaking down the drain.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13517&reviewer=409
originally posted: 12/08/05 06:08:33
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User Comments

11/17/14 Kev J Post -911 powerplay? So where was Israel's hand? 4 stars
8/09/10 PAUL SHORTT ENGROSSING, WELL MADE DRAMA WITH A GREAT STAR PERFORMANCE 4 stars
7/24/10 bagwell5 Really good film. Need to see twice to get it. 4 stars
7/06/09 R Lan Too many storylines. I have no idea why Clooney won an Oscar for this role! 2 stars
5/04/09 Joe Smaltz What the hell was that? 1 stars
9/05/08 Pokejedservo Overrated and feel a bit too long but has had plenty of good aspects as well. 3 stars
7/30/08 the dork knight Hey look, it's Dr. bashir from Deep Space Nine. Awesome. Add 1 more star. 4 stars
7/12/08 Sam Very good ..too long though .. 4 stars
3/03/08 ladavies Very complex, not sure I really understood everything. 4 stars
8/13/07 Annonomiss A smart person's thriller. Paid attention to get all the plot. Couldn't stand the torture! 3 stars
5/02/07 R.W.Welch Murky machinations in the weird world of the Middle East. Good, if a shade overplotted. 4 stars
3/02/07 Dan Nice to watch a movie where you have to think for a change. 5 stars
12/24/06 danielle Movie for rich people.Disgusting oil/poli peeps. 3 stars
11/08/06 BG so happy to see I was not the only one who did not understand this film! 1 stars
9/23/06 joesurf i feel that this movie can be watched backwards and it would confuse me just the same. 2 stars
9/21/06 Shelby This is a piece of Americana that should not go unnoticed. 5 stars
9/17/06 Loop the gab not viewer-friendly but containing important themes 3 stars
8/25/06 Been There Done That Politically motivated, unrealistic, disingenuous, horse hockey 1 stars
8/15/06 John Watson Completely incomprehensible and alienating. I suddenly love Big Oil. 1 stars
7/18/06 Monday Morning Why were story, characters and interworkings so obtuse? Still was way above average. 4 stars
7/17/06 JenDenmark If you are super intelligent, then you will admit that it's crap! 1 stars
7/16/06 Wiseman You have to be a Intellegent superhuman to understand this one, dont watch if u ar dumb 1 stars
7/15/06 MikeDenmark Utterly intelligent & brilliant! Shows something about the workings of politics. 5 stars
7/12/06 MickT If you don't get it or find dull, the you are just plain DUMB! 5 stars
6/25/06 nathan excellent, complicated, powerful, well acted, but not as good as "traffic" 4 stars
6/23/06 The Talking Elbow Movie is highly disjointed Hollywood tripe that goes over your head almost on purpose. 1 stars
6/08/06 Barry Very rare to find a good movie with such realism like this, I LOVED IT! 5 stars
4/18/06 matt it was ok, I didn't understand it all though 3 stars
4/15/06 Steve Newman Great film - dont get drunk before you watch it - apr 06 4 stars
3/31/06 Brianna Holden Worst Jane Austen adaptation ever. Chaos of chaosses. 1 stars
3/18/06 MP Bartley Not as complex as people say. Engrossing, but tough to love. 4 stars
3/13/06 Roderick Cromar Gripping. I'll have to buy the book to discover what happened. 4 stars
3/04/06 HH Very accurate in the world it depicts, not an easy romcom in all regards. 5 stars
2/28/06 john bale Thought provoking though complex plot should concern us all. Clooney excells again. 4 stars
2/18/06 rich kramer the comments of other reviewers who felt it was not viewer friendly reflected my reactions! 2 stars
2/17/06 Soha Molina average 3 stars
2/10/06 elendil Rent it with a friend so you can hit pause and discuss to keep up 5 stars
2/05/06 BertRito I had no idea what was going on, yet somehow it was still OK. 3 stars
1/23/06 Donna A simple story made unnecessarily complicated. Dreary and depressing. Don't waste your time 2 stars
1/23/06 ajay I think I'm sorta intelligent, but I walked out confused and was relieved it was over. 2 stars
1/17/06 marini nielazaya like Collin Souter, I felt pretty stupid after watching it, but I think it was an important 4 stars
1/13/06 Sunny "Nice Try but NO." 2 stars
12/31/05 Faustus Smart, fast-paced and current with excellent writing, directing and acting. Fantastic film. 5 stars
12/30/05 Agent Sands Well-made, well-acted, but you've got to have a knowledge for the subject matter to follow. 4 stars
12/29/05 jcjs excellent, i even understood most of it the first time...fine work..a waring too 5 stars
12/23/05 Dee Sewell Boring not a thriller 2 stars
12/20/05 Pete Phelan rates in the all-time top 100 (even if you have to see it twice - I did) 5 stars
12/19/05 T.C. Fucking awesome 5 stars
12/18/05 ownerofdajoint A brilliant depiction of the malevolence created my mankind's super dependence on petroleum 5 stars
12/17/05 jeff have 2 b from the middle east to understand this movie. 5 stars
12/16/05 KingNeutron Interminable, brutal, stultifying, and Confusing. 2 stars
12/16/05 MV Where do the producers get the money for such an awful movie. Was the studio asleep? 1 stars
12/15/05 John Interesting, but no new info about our oil-based foreign policy. 4 stars
12/15/05 Ryan Great cast, good idea, but not well developed. 3 stars
12/15/05 millersxing Only thing "The Insider" or "Traffic" have on "Syriana" is more familiar subject matter. 5 stars
12/14/05 David That makes two of us. Couldn't agree more. 4 stars
12/14/05 dick runman confusing and sometimes boring 3 stars
12/11/05 James Wimmers I seldom ask for my money back 1 stars
12/11/05 Bentable ZzZzZ 2 stars
12/11/05 Mark Green 2 stars
12/11/05 varyouga putting politics aside, the story and character development was complete crap. boring 1 stars
12/10/05 Sergio Pretentous and confusing 2 stars
12/07/05 Christine Hill ~ ClooneyNetwork.com Incredible! Thought Provoking. 5 stars
12/05/05 Carolyn Interesting to watch unfold but doesn't leave any impact on you 4 stars
11/30/05 Booyah Boy If you ever wondered why the US is so hated... 5 stars
11/27/05 Gary Savatsky Glib, anti american, superficial 2 stars
11/24/05 Todd Corruption? In the Oil business? I had no idea. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  23-Nov-2005 (R)
  DVD: 20-Jun-2006

UK
  03-Mar-2006

Australia
  16-Feb-2006




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