From a rhetorical perspective "Syriana" is probably preaching to the choir. The idea that oil companies are motivated by profit and will do anything to make more money today than yesterday, and even more tomorrow, has been clear ever since J.R. Ewing ran rampant on "Dallas." The reality that the "record" gas prices of recent days are relative and less than they were during the oil crisis of the 1970s once you adjust for deflation is lost on a public that would rather keep the math simple and not bring algebra into the equation. Oil companies make big profits and they make them off of us, but then you can say the same thing about fast food restaurants or pretty much any other American business. Besides, there is nothing we can do about hurricanes that affect oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, but during an election year you can get politicians desperate to keep their jobs willing to babble empty promises about taking the oil companies to tasks. It has been sixty years since the end of World War II and Nazis are too old to be functional boogeymen anymore, but the oil companies we will always have with us (well, actually, that is not true, as this film tries to indicate).
The plot of "Syriana" is pretty complex, but the situation is relatively simple. One the oil producing nations of the Persian Gulf signs a deal to supply its oil to China, which was what the Texas-based oil company Connex wanted to do. Meanwhile, Killen, a small oil company, signs a deal to drill for oil in Kazakhstan, so Connex strikes a merger deal, which gets the attention of the U.S. government because there are things here that do not add up (unless you think in terms of petrodollars). "Syriana" was written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, who won an Oscar for Best Screenplay Adaptation for "Traffic," which matters because it provides a point of reference which tells viewers that thinks are going to get complicated and convoluted before long, but in the end everything will be revealed in the fullness of time to be parts of a single pattern. So just watch the proceedings and follow along as best you can.
Involved in these machinations are a whole bunch of characters, with veteran CIA field agent Bob Barnes (George Clooney) as the film's focal point (which might sound like it is at odds with winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but with everybody vying for screen time it makes sense). His counterpart in the dynamic of the film ends up being Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), an oil trader working out of Geneva who becomes a bit more honest in the truth he speaks to power after a personal tragedy. The cast also includes Christopher Plummer, Chris Cooper, Jeffrey Wright, Akbar Kurtha, William Hurt, and Aleander Siddig, and I refrain from identifying roles and motivations because that is something best left to you in watching the film.
The relationship between Robert Baer's "See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Solider in the CIA's War on Terrorism" and Gaghan's screenplay is that the film is "suggested" by the non-fiction book. In other words, nothing is real here, but it is expected to ring true with audiences and it probably well. However, "Syriana" got me thinking: the assumption has been that President Bush has is beholden to the oil companies because they have bought him body and soul (not to mention that he tried to be an oil man once upon a time). But this film suggests that Bush or any other American president should follow their whims and orders because if they do otherwise they may well lose more than their job.