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VINE VOICEon 20 June 2010
Stephen Gaghan wrote and directed this film,using Bob Baeur's book ,See No Evil,(based on his time as a CIA agent) as a leaping off point.The screenplay is what drew the cast of major actors.Gaghan wrote the script for Traffic. It's a densely plotted,highly-wrought work,sometimes obscure,drip-feeding you vast amounts of information, in a series of short 1-1.5 minute scenes and a large cast of characters, simultantaneously,all over the world.Sometimes it's hard to glean what is being said and who is saying it and why they are saying it.I resented this obstacle to understanding, and you need to watch the film very closely.The thesis of Syriana is the system is wrong,people, governments,individuals are caught up in it.Big Business,corporations run the show.The rat race for control of Persian Gulf oil by whatever means necessary determines who dominates the world. Government is controlled by underlying forces.Only repeated viewing uncovers how 5 different narrative strands come together in this intricate tale of corruption,greed and power.The minor roles are all excellent too.

George Clooney plays Bob Barnes as a fallen from grace CIA operative,overweight and bearded.He is the emotional heart and provides the momentum of the story.He is asked to stay `on message',is coming to the end of his active career and to get a desk job is being asked to go to Beirut and assassinate Prince Nasir.He is being cut loose. Jeffrey Wright plays Bennett Holiday,a lawyer investigating the merger of Connex and Killeen,'fixing' problems. This is a central role.Matt Damon plays an ambitious energy analyst,who through a personal tragedy becomes a financial consultant to Prince Nasir,assisting his revolutionary views for changes in the Arab world. Wassim(Munhir)a poor immigrant Pakistani worker,shows the Islamicisation of displaced youth,calling for the ultimate sacrifice.The Prince is involved with the Chinese and this sets off scenes of torture,murder, corruption, suicide, kidnap, betrayal.'Syriana' is the name given to an Americanised Middle East,manufacturing consent of the people and world powers to make life easier for elites.Possibly there is an element of conspiracy theories at work but the film is an eye-opener to many actualities and realities,forces at work in the world that ultimately warp and distort democracies of the free world.

This is a multi-perspectival ,multiplotted film of 87-90 scenes of various characters in the west and the Middle East,whose subject is oil and Big Business's desire to get its hands on this rapidly diminishing resource,the shadey deals,the mergers of oil companies,involving torture,the CIA,murder,extremes of poverty,spies,Islamist radicalization,corruption,immigrant labourers,Emirs,Princes,industrialists,politicos.The film is shot without any flourishes, on hand-held cameras and influences the energy with which such a vast subject is tackled.It's not a total success as it takes a gathering momentum of small scenes by ¾ of the film before you understand,but it's a significant film, which earned Clooney the best supporting actor Oscar.It contains elements of a thriller, but has no big action scenarios.The film challenges the audience to come to their own conclusions of what is going on.With climate change, issues of oil pollution and dwindling resources,this is no small feat in mainstream film.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 March 2010
This is a brave film essentially about US addiction to Middle-Eastern oil and the lengths the country will go to ensure its supply. The film is about the consequences - unseen and unforeseen - that arise. It demands watching more than once as we move swiftly from the streets of Tehran to those of Washington DC; from Texas boardrooms to Swiss banking offices; from the Persian Gulf to Princeton; and from the Mediterranean coasts of Spain and France to the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon.

Oil, weapons, money is what the game is all about, and woe betide anyone who tries to opt out of playing. The film is all about corruption - of minds, of men, of peoples, of the times. As one accountant screams to Jeffrey Wright, who is investigating the terms of an oil deal, "corruption is why we win". Without being preachy, the film offers an explanation as to why the West's relationship with the Islamic world is as it is. Written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, it is based on the book `See No Evil' by Robert Baer, a man who should know what really goes on in the murky waters of US politics, the military, and its economic and geopolitical interests. Some scenes can be brutal, such as when Clooney has some of his fingernails extracted.

The three main stars - Clooney, Damon, and Wright - comprise three separate strands of the story: rarely, if ever, do they meet. To add depth, each also has a personal relationship problem: Clooney with his son, Damon with his wife, and Wright with his father. There is a strong supporting cast, including Christopher Plummer, Chris Cooper, and Alexander Siddig as Prince Nasir, the man who does not want to play the game and who suffers as a consequence.

The film has lots of jump-shots; the editing is fine, perhaps too fine, but it lends itself to maintaining constant interest in the plot, even if you haven't the faintest idea what's going on. Combined with a good soundtrack, one feels as if all the events are playing out in real-time.

Alas, there is no commentary on my disc, but there are some other extras. Firstly, there is a nine-minute conversation with Clooney, who is also a co-executive producer; then there is an eleven-minute film titled `Make a Change, Make a Difference' featuring stars, producers, and the director; and there are three deleted scenes. These feature Clooney's on-screen wife, a role that unfortunately hit the cutting room floor during editing. One more point: it's a bit spooky to see the guy who presses the button on his desk that fires the missile that kills Prince Nasir look remarkably like the present British Foreign Secretary, David Milliband.
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on 28 May 2011
Syriana is a challenging, intriguing, and truly thought provoking thriller. While it takes the format of a political thriller/ensemble piece, it is in many ways a devastating analogy of many factors affecting the Middle East and West today; the resource curse, the unaccountable nature of corporate power, and US policy toward regional stability and interests, and the extents it will apparently go to in order to safeguard these interests.
Syriana revolves around three interconnected story lines; a pending succession in an unnamed Gulf Emirate, a corporate merger between two oil giants and the ensuing DOJ rubber stamp investigation, a Pakistani migrant worker whose outlook has been jettisoned by the merger, and a longtime CIA operative whose concern for the truth over official US policy is having detrimental effects on his career outlook.
While the Middle East is changing as we speak, it is no secret that Washington's official policy for decades has been stability at all costs. This is anchored in ensuing a steady supply of oil, and ensuring troop presence to act as an insurance policy should events like Iran in 1979 or Gulf War I repeat themselves. This forms the backbone of the Zubaidi storyline, wherein a young, highly educated Prince with a modernizing outlook seeks to take his country out of the shackles of the resource curse, increase production capacity by improving the logistical transport of oil (with a pipeline through Iran) and end US troop presence in his country. This essentially puts him at odds with Washington.
The merger story line essentially explores the reality that some mergers or corporate operations are just too important for the overall economy to let fine details like irregularities get in the way, therefore an investigation is undertaken by a US Attorney to find a few fall guys simply to give the deal a patina of legal legitimacy.
The story line involving the migrant workers should provide enough insight into the nature of Gulf States and the treatment of the foreign labor populations to at least deflect any criticisms that the movie has a pro-Arab bias. Two hard working and optimistic Pakistani migrants find their future status undermined by their summary lay off from their labor contract. As the Gulf State becomes decidedly non accommodating to newly unemployed migrant workers, the two find themselves drawn into the seductive clutches of a charismatic, yet pernicious Islamist.
The George Clooney/CIA story line essentially arcs around all the aforementioned story lines, and is in many ways the glue holding the various stories together.
Despite being fiction, Syriana provides an understandable insight into the nature of the West's addiction to oil and the many side effects. It is not a critique aimed at particular individuals or ideologies, rather it is an institutional critique, a challenge to the current trade system we all essentially are involved in.
Speaking as a Graduate of International Relations, I can safely say that a viewer who watches and absorbs Syriana will take home a better understanding of the Middle East than many of my Alumni ever grasped.
By no means an easy watch, and certainly not the kind of movie one can watch over a poker game and a few beers. However, those who give this movie the attention and concentration it deserves will find an engaging thriller that challenges their outlook on the contemporary world.
The Blu Ray version delivers the superior picture quality as one would expect with the Blu Ray format, but alas there are no additional extras to those already contained in the DVD version.
Syriana is perhaps the smartest movie I have ever seen, and I say this as a Graduate of International Relations. However, this is not a movie exclusively for followers of current events, it is a movie for everyone as we are, whether we like it or not, involved in the realities portrayed in this film. A movie that should be watched and re-watched.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 August 2012
Following in the wake of his screenplay for Steven Soderburgh's 2000 film Traffic, Stephen Gaghan takes on directing duties for this 2005 (similarly multi-storylined) geopolitical thriller. Whilst Syriana is undoubtedly a flawed work (probably just failing under the weight, and scale, of its own ambition), Gaghan (and Hollywood, in general) should be congratulated in helping to ensure that a film which addresses such serious issues as Syriana does, is able to make it to mainstream cinema screens.

George Clooney (with Soderburgh) co-produced the film and stars as Bob Barnes, a veteran CIA operative attempting to prevent illegal Iranian arms dealing, who becomes disillusioned as his employers attempt to trash his reputation following his outspoken comments about their nefarious operations. In parallel, and central to Gaghan's story, two US oil companies are proposing a (corrupt) merger in order to shore up their interests in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab emirates' decision to grant oil drilling rights to China. Thereafter, Gaghan's film is a tale of complex political intrigue, full of smarmy and corrupt lawyers, politicians and intelligence officials as the US attempts to ensure that the controlling Arab powers favour their own interests (to the extent of plotting the assassination of a non-compliant member of the ruling emirate family). Syriana also explores the issues of cultural conflict (and lack of democracy) in the Middle East via the story of Pakistani migrant workers, Wasim Khan and his father Saleem, who are laid off at short notice, and persecuted, by their Arab employers - this storyline also has a rather clunky and under-developed link to the indoctrination of potential terrorists in the region.

On the acting front, Clooney is solid in the central role - although not, for me, quite deserving of the Best Supporting Actor that he won for the performance. On the other hand, both Chris Cooper as the southern-drawling oil boss, Jimmy Pope, and veteran actor Christopher Plummer as the quietly malevolent senior lawyer, Dean Whiting, are outstanding.

Overall, therefore, a hugely ambitious film which attempts (only partially successfully) to address a huge range of important global issues - something that is still relatively rare in Hollywood these days.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 January 2012
I will sit on the fence with this one.

It is over two hours long, and is shot in a sort of documentary style with various ongoing stories, that are linked to the theme of endemic corruption in the oil industry and political interference in Near East regimes. If you have seen Traffic, or indeed some of the more serious Steven Soderbergh films you will be familiar with the emotionally neutral reportage feel to the film.

For some reason every trailer wants you to think that you are getting a Steven Seagal action flick, regardless of what the film actually is. This is not an action film, it is long, there is some matter of fact violence, including a torture scene that seems out of keeping for a 15 certificate film.

I probably missed some nuances, but I am happy enough to have got the gist of the film at one sitting, most of the story lines resolve themselves in a downbeat manner. Overall I felt it was entertaining, well acted, expensively produced, with a lot of intelligent observation. I also liked the even handedness of the character portrayals, even the potential terrorists were sympathetically portrayed. On reflection we are manipulated to support the American leads, Matt Damon is a family man seeking to improve the world, George Clooney is a principled CIA man willing to endure torture, rather than both being unprincipled opportunists blundering through things they don't understand.

My main problem with films with a political ax to grind, is that by the time you get to the end, you can see the big twist coming a mile off, we have all seen so many plots, that the end that should be shockingly cynical and unexpected falls rather flat.

Although this is a long film, it is made with intelligence and sincerity, I did not feel that I had wasted the time watching it, but similarly it is not a film I would be likely watch again. On balance this film is closer to being really good, than really bad, but the length and complexity are likely to put off most people.

Finally I watched this the same day as Traitor [DVD] [2009] which is worth watching if you enjoyed Syriana.
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on 15 September 2008
You know when you start watching a good movie and from the first few minutes it draws you in and you can relax and enjoy? You may not know much about the characters or understand where the film is going but you feel as though it will be worthwhile finding out. Some films start this way and end up disappointing. Occasionally you watch a film that you never really understand but they are enthralling to watch regardless (Mulholland Drive comes to mind). In the case of Syriana I was bored, confused and frustrated from start to finish. If you get frustrated by confusing films where it jumps between different plot lines endlessly then this will drive you nuts. I can't stress enough just how difficult to follow the plot of this movie is. I rented it mainly because I enjoyed Traffic, which had a similar structure but had interesting characters, good storylines and crucially a director who understands that the main purpose of a movie is to provide entertainment. I couldn't wait for it to end.
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on 6 November 2007
Really disappointed by this film. I stopped watching it after an hour or so. I couldn't get interested in the characters and the plot was drifting all over the place. I'm a bit fed up that I've wasted one of my rentals this month on this film. When I added it to my rental list there was only one bad review. There are quite a few of them now though! As it's based on a true story think I'll hunt out the book and read that to find out the ending!!
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VINE VOICEon 12 November 2008
I should have read more of the reviews on here before buying this... Trust me, I'm not the sort of person who needs to see lots of tanks exploding to enjoy a film; I can enjoy a "thoughtful" film as much as the next person. But it needs to be watchable; it needs to have a story that draws you in. This is just a sprawling, self-indulgent mess. Avoid.
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on 5 January 2012
I can't say that I am completely in agreement with the political message of this film, although it is essentially thought-provoking (something rather rare in films - particularly American ones)
However, I love the vast, complex panorama that this film presents - from Iran to the Middle East to the United States, it presents the energy business as an important element in the global make-up - greed a key factor in the world's problems. As someone who has travelled rather a lot in the last few years in developing countries it is disturbing to notice some of the global imbalances - in education and opportunities - that most Westerners would rather ignore. This film brilliantly portrays these imbalances, and its message is deeply disturbing, if not completely 'non-fiction'.
The personal tragedies of individuals are reported in a stark manner - there is little psychology in this film, but personal tragedy is reported from a third-person viewpoint if you like. There are a number of plots which weave in and out of each other in a complex fabric that builds to a tense and utterly tragic conclusion. Possibly the film's strongest point is the way it shows the relationship between personal and societal tragedy. Stalin said once that one death is a tragedy, but a million is a statistic. Here the statistics are somehow made real.
The imagery is convincing, the acting excellent, and the background music suitably atmospheric.
A film as sad, complicated and challenging as this one is never going to be everyone's cup of tea. Some will get lost (you will probably need to watch this film more than once just to understand what is going on), some won't like the message (it is rather anti-American), and some will just feel rather depressed at the end.
If depression, challenge and complexity attract you rather than repulse you, you will enjoy this film. If you are looking for light entertainment, and brain relaxation - go elsewhere.
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This is the type of film where many of the people who give it 5 stars seem to feel the need to be offensive about people who don't. That in itself should serve as a warning.

Great cast, great acting and the cinematography looks good. Unfortunately the plot still hadn't put in an appearance at the 50 minute mark when I gave up. Lots of little scenes, quite interesting in themselves but with no seeming connection to each other and no narrative drive. Lots of the reviews say stick with it, it has a great ending and it will all come together. They are probably right. I'm not willing to spend another hour watching it to find out though. But, you know what? I don't think people who enjoy it are idiots. Shame so many of them need to bolster their own shaky sense of self-esteem by implying that people who don't enjoy it are.
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