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on February 21, 2007
"Syriana", directed by Stephen Gaghan, is an engaging film that tackles many different stories at the same time. All of them have something in common, though: the oil industry, and the people that have some kind of relationship with it.

Despite the fact that it is a little difficult to keep track of the diverse stories that "Syriana" comprises, it is well worth the effort, due to the fact that it allows the spectator to understand what is at stake for different people in the oil industry, and how a decision made by one of them affects the rest. What does Bob (George Clooney), a CIA operative, has to do with a poor immigrant who works in an oil field, or with a young reformist prince (Alexander Siddig)? And what do a broker (Matt Damon) and a lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) that don't know each other have to do with all of them? Oil, power, corruption and manipulation are the main subjects in "Syriana". This film is fiction, but some of its elements could well be truth, and that makes you think.

On the whole, I think "Syriana" is a complicated movie, but one that deserves your time and attention. If you don't mind the fact that you must follow several stories at once, and that this film is undeniably serious and doesn't have any kind of comic relief, I think you will enjoy "Syriana". I know I did...

Belen Alcat
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon July 5, 2007
"Munich" was much more successful as a piece of entertainment, with an exciting thriller plot and more fully developed characters. The people in "Syriana" are just pawns in a diplomatic game, and maybe that's the point, but it doesn't make them interesting to watch. Moreover, when the filmmakers attempt to add human interest (e.g. a family tragedy befalls Matt Damon's character), it doesn't work. The ending sequence is nicely suspenseful, and ties some of the disparate plot lines together, but the movie takes much too long to get there.

The worst (that is, the most boring) of the four story lines is the one where Jeffrey Wright plays a lawyer investigating possible corruption in an American oil company merger. It's very difficult to make this kind of material cinematic, and writer/director Gaghan doesn't succeed. Many of the characters involved in this plot make speeches that are meant to be thought- provoking, but they come out of nowhere and are just as quickly forgotten. Better is the story about the young man training to be a terrorist: it's easy to follow, and shows us something not usually depicted in movies. Still, sandwiched between the other plot lines, it feels like a shallow exploration of how terrorists are made.

George Clooney, with his beard and weight gain, is certainly unrecognizable in his role as CIA employee Bob Barnes, and his acting is competent. But if he hadn't been involved in "Goodnight and Good Luck" this same year, I doubt he would have won the Oscar for this performance. Even here, he is outshone by Alexander Siddig, who plays Nasir, a reformist Arab prince. In a movie that tries to show the complexities and gray areas of Middle Eastern oil politics, Nasir is perhaps the most complex of all: spoiled and ambitious, but with noble ideals.

Also, for a movie that wants to be an intelligent exploration of the oil industry, why is the Iraq war mentioned only once, in a throwaway line?
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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.
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on March 7, 2009
This movie is more than entertainment and it's not for everybody. A bit confusing how it goes back & forth in time, too many characters involved. If you like politics, you'll enjoy the movie. If not, I wouldn't recommend it.
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on February 13, 2015
A gritty story about the interactions of two Americans with the complexities of the Arab culture in the Middle East. An intelligent film.
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on November 26, 2013
Un agent est utilisé par la CIA sous le sceau du secret. Il est kidnappé et la CIA l'abandonne et le discrédite.
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on October 12, 2014
Service and delivery were great but I did not realize it was wide screen until I received it. Harder to watch.
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on February 23, 2015
have watched many times and continue to, periodically, view
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on February 3, 2016
Made me understand the business of oil, hard and shifty,
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on September 8, 2014
Really liked this movie
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