Syriana

"Good"

Syriana Review


Never send a writer to do a director's job. That, more than the addictive evils of easy oil and cozy government/business corruption, is the true lesson of Syriana. When Steven Soderbergh took on Stephen Gaghan's byzantine script for Traffic, he utilized a few simple tricks to keep it all making sense, everything from grouping stories by color scheme to casting vivid character actors for minor roles so that they wouldn't get lost in the shuffle. Gaghan doesn't have these skills to bring to bear and though he beats his sprawling epic somewhat into shape, it leaves one wishing for the film that could have been, given a better director.

Like Traffic, Syriana is a messy Gordian knot of plot, only with no Soderbergh to slice it neatly open. Instead of drug trafficking, the subject this time is the nexus where oil corporations, the U.S. government, Islamic extremism, and Middle East dictatorships come together in an unholy fusion of polity and greed. The characters are introduced at a leisurely pace, Gaghan laying it all out with perhaps a little too much care. Once things start to cohere, the film shunts into a political thriller about an unnamed Gulf State where the ailing king's two sons are jockeying for control; one is a lazy playboy beloved by U.S. interests and the other is an educated reformer who wants to modernize his country and stop kowtowing to the west.

Around this dense story, Gaghan layers a rich mix of characters that should excite more than they do. George Clooney - playing CIA operative Bob Barnes, loosely modeled on Robert Baer, an agency Middle East vet - seems to be trying to hide under the beard and extra poundage of a middle-aged disillusioned company man. Normally this would be a welcome tactic, but in a movie critically short of fireworks, his usual spark is missed. Similarly muffled is Jeffrey Wright in a tamped-down performance as a lawyer at a white-shoe DC firm looking into whether the Killeen oil company (eager for government approval of a merger) paid off Kazakhstan officials for drilling rights.

Matt Damon and Chris Cooper - as an embittered energy analyst and Killeen's gung-ho owner, respectively - do their level best to work some energy into the film, but their efforts fizzle nevertheless, Gaghan's lack of directorial rhythm hamstringing his own writing. Because of sloppy editing and critically mistimed delivery, a blistering Machiavellian speech by a congressman (Tim Blake Nelson) fingered in the Kazakhstan payoff about the necessity of corruption ("Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm.") which reeks of brilliant malevolence on the page is DOA on the screen.

Syriana has a rich smorgasbord of thought-provoking material to lay out before audiences, from the creepy ideologues at the (fictional, but just barely) Committee to Liberate Iran to the Pakistani migrant oil workers hostage to the whims of their host countries and the massive corporations propping them up. But, since this isn't Frontline, choices that should have been made for artistry's sake weren't, and the result is a maze of barely-cohering subterfuge that has at least one subplot too many. Gaghan is rightly determined to show us the human cost of everything, thus most characters aren't the two-dimensional action figures of your average thriller, but workaday types burdened with family and other woes. Instead of deepening the impact of the film, however, these asides simply weigh down the narrative. Though at least one major subplot has already been snipped out, there still remains at least one or two too many. The evidence of generous editing has left ragged edges in the film, producing a fitfully engrossing and overreaching film that is both somehow too much and yet not enough.

Where's the poker game this week?



Syriana

Facts and Figures

Run time: 128 mins

In Theaters: Friday 9th December 2005

Box Office USA: $50.8M

Box Office Worldwide: $94M

Budget: $50M

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Production compaines: Warner Bros., Participant Media, 4M, Section Eight, FilmWorks, MID Foundation

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Fresh: 139 Rotten: 54

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: , , Georgia Kacandes, , Steven Soderbegh, ,

Starring: as Bob Barnes, as Bryan Woodman, as Bennett Holiday, as Jimmy Pope, as Julie Woodman, as Stan, as Dean Whiting, as Prince Nasir Al-Subaai, as Arash, as Mohammed Sheik Agiza, Robert Foxworth as Tommy Barton, Nicky Henson as Sydney Hewitt, Nicholas Art as Riley Woodman, Steven Hinkle as Max Woodman, as Rebecca, as Leland "Lee" Janus, as Bryan's Boss, Mazhar Munir as Wasim Khan, Jocelyn Quivrin as Vincent, Shahid Ahmed as Saleem Ahmed Khan, Bikram Singh Bhamra as Pakistani Translator, as Chinese Engineer, as Division Chief, as Robby Barnes, as Emir Hamed Al-Subaai, as Prince Meshal Al-Subaai, Sonnell Dadral as Farooq, as Danny Dalton, as Mussawi, Badria Timimi as Nasir's Wife

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Free State of Jones Movie Review

Free State of Jones Movie Review

Since its true story is still so timely after some 150 years, we can forgive...

Deepwater Horizon Movie Review

Deepwater Horizon Movie Review

This reunion of actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg feels like a natural successor...

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Movie Review

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Movie Review

Ransom Riggs' bestselling novel is appropriately adapted into a movie by Tim Burton, the gothic...

Get Back Movie Review

Get Back Movie Review

Roger Appleton's documentary 'Get Back' looks into the music scene that come out of Liverpool....

Imperium Movie Review

Imperium Movie Review

First-time filmmaker Daniel Ragussis takes an unusual approach to this thriller. Since it's based on...

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

Like a 10-years-later follow-up to 28 Days Later, this small British thriller takes a refreshingly...

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his usual fascination with violence to this remake of the iconic...

Advertisement
Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

As it's been 12 years since the last Bridget Jones movie, expectations aren't too high...

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

A-list director Ron Howard worked with the surviving Beatles to assemble this engaging documentary, which...

Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Movie Review

It's been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project shook up the cinema and created...

Anthropoid Movie Review

Anthropoid Movie Review

Outside the Czech Republic, few people know about Operation Anthropoid, a spy mission in 1943...

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

From Laika (The Boxtrolls), this is one of the most beautiful, sophisticated animated films in...

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.