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Overall Rating

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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by Lybarger

"Almost atones for 'Abandon.'"
4 stars

While "Syriana" takes much of its inspiration from current headlines, its greatest strength is not in how it reminds viewers of what they can see on a cable news channel but in how it can make its participants become convincingly human.

It doesnít take much mental effort to conclude that U.S. and Middle Eastern relations stink, but Gaghan manages to help provide a better understanding of how the situation has gotten out of hand.

Rather than making the film a primer to the situation, heís instead chosen to make an elaborate jigsaw puzzle that requires intense viewer concentration and only comes together once the credits have started rolling.

The centerpiece involves a burned out CIA agent named Bob Barnes (an unusually disheveled and intentionally pudgy George Clooney) whoís tracking a pair of weapons heís sold to Iranian and monitoring a feud to succeed a pair of princes trying to succeed an ailing Persian Gulf king. Gaghan loosely adapted his script from former CIA operative Robert Baerís memoir See No Evil, so these segments seem to carry the most weight.

The younger prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig, a "Star Trek" alumnus) is educated and eager to reverse his countryís crumbling economy and abysmal reputation abroad, so heís recruited an American oil industry consultant named Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) to help him plan a coup against his corrupt older brother.

Back in the States, an attorney named Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) has the unenviable task of determining if the newly merged oil company who has hired him has done anything criminal, which could squash a multi-billion dollar deal for oil from Kazakhstan. His client (Chris Cooper) and the head of his firm (a wonderfully creepy Christopher Plummer) want a neat and tidy conclusion he may not be able to deliver.

Back in the kingdom, a young expatriate Pakistani laborer (Mazhar Munir) is about to lose his oil field job because of a business deal with a Chinese company. With no employment prospects and a certain deportation, heís quickly seduced by a radical cleric looking for fresh suicide bombers.

The filmís conclusion is undeniably bleak, but Gaghan, who won an Oscar for penning "Traffic," ultimately reaches his conclusion in strangely rewarding manner. Except for a graphic scene where Bob is tortured during a mission that goes horribly wrong, the director wisely assumes that viewers are smart enough to figure out a bomb has destroyed something without giving us a gigantic cathartic explosion.

Because heís willing to give viewers the benefit of the doubt, itís easier to take when he presents difficult or unpleasant information. Gaghan also masterfully twists viewer sympathies for many of the characters. A character who holds our regard for much of the film will brazenly betray his compatriots.

He also makes their home lives vivid, if not always pleasant. Bennetís straight-arrow demeanor is obviously a harsh reaction to watching his own father practically drink himself to death in front of the younger manís eyes.

Similarly, Bryanís wife (Amanda Peet) resents how he has taken up with the prince despite the accidental death of their son at a party held on the royal familyís property. Sheís even more furious because he spends more time with the monarchs that he does with his own brood. In these sequences, viewers get a sense that the price of oil has an impact that runs much deeper than a simple pump price.

In interviews, Gaghan has criticized both the Clinton and the Bush administrations for their handling of Middle East policies, and one of the strengths of "Syriana" is that it actually muddies the politics of the situation.

While Nasir is far more erudite and sophisticated than his sibling, Gaghan shows him saying one thing to Bryan and another to local chieftains. He might be a more capable administrator than his brother, but that doesnít mean his people will necessarily be better off.

Determining good or bad guys in this tale is sometimes a tricky task. For example, a viewer almost feels sorry for Munirís character as he falls into fanaticism.

While Clooney gained a lot of notoriety for gaining 30 pounds to play Bob, the supporting cast is remarkably deep and full of familiar faces like those of William Hurt and Robert Foxworth, who thankfully donít detract from the rest of the story.

With such an intriguing and thought provoking film, itís hard to believe that Gaghan also wrote and helmed the Katie Holmes turkey "Abandon." If he keeps this up, we may eventually forget that one.

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originally posted: 12/10/05 10:55:37
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User Comments

11/17/14 Kev J Post -911 powerplay? So where was Israel's hand? 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 ~ 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
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  23-Nov-2005 (R)
  DVD: 20-Jun-2006



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