Directed by: Stephen Gaghan
Premise: A political thriller involving multiple interwoven storylines about the oil industry and Middle Eastern terrorism.
What Works: Each storyline is well put together. The most interesting plotline concerns a CIA operative (George Clooney) who has been doing dirty work for the United States government and finds himself in a legal and a moral crisis. The other performances are very strong as well, including Matt Damon as an oil broker, Alexander Siddig as a progressive Middle Eastern prince, and Jeffrey Wright as a corporate lawyer for an oil company. The film cuts between the different storylines with relative ease and smartly creates a cause and effect relationship between characters on different continents.
What Doesn’t: The film aims over the audience’s head and gets bewildering. It is not entirely clear how some elements of the stories and the character relationships fit together. This fits with the theme of the film, that no one quite grasps the big picture, but as a piece of rhetoric and entertainment, it would be helpful for the audience to grasp it. Had the film lost the suicide bomber narrative, the rest of the film would have been strengthened.
Bottom Line: Syriana is a smart political thriller. It is a very sad film but not sentimental. Its boldness, the depth of the characterizations, and the way the stories are inter-cut raise Syriana above the average political thriller or a piece of propaganda and turn it into something much better.
Episode: #78 (December 18, 2005)