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Syriana - Review

Matt Damon and George Clooney in Syriana

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5


SYRIANA is at the forefront of the new wave of political movies emerging from Hollywood at the moment.

It is, in the words of its co-star George Clooney, a film that reflects society given that it explores some of the most relevant issues concerning us today – from oil and terrorism to power and money.

The result is a thoroughly compelling and thought-provoking piece of work that entertains as much as it enlightens, even if there are moments when it feels impenetrable.

The film is written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, a former Oscar-winner as screenwriter of Traffic, and is split into four inter-related stories much like his drugs masterpiece.

The most interesting part concerns George Clooney’s veteran CIA agent Bob Barnes, whose last secret mission to eliminate Arab Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig) turns out to be more complex than he imagined, placing him in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy.

While Matt Damon also registers strongly as Bryan Woodman, an energy man whose ethics become compromised following the horrific loss of one of his sons in a swimming pool accident.

It is Woodman’s Middle East negotiations with Prince Nasir that eventually link him to Barnes.

Behind the scenes in Washington, meanwhile, are lawyers Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) and Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer), who are negotiating the high-profile merger between a major oil supplier, Connex, and a smaller company, Killen, that may be better for the US government than it is for the rest of the world.

Completing the intricate puzzle is a small group of oil workers who have been laid off by Connex and who seek to rebuild their lives and find a way of getting their own message across.

With so much to say, Syriana could easily have become bogged down in confusing rhetoric and complex politics, while also preaching its own message into the bargain.

But far from attempting to provide pat answers or resorting to pointless finger-pointing, Gaghan’s thriller, which is based on See No Evil, a memoir by former CIA agent Robert Baer, is more concerned with asking questions that it hopes audiences will want to look further to find the answers to.

It is, after all, a fictional piece of work that clearly has its finger on the pulse of current events.

There are no straight-forward villains, merely morally ambiguous characters who are drawn into an increasingly complex world that is governed by events beyond their control.

As such, viewers have to work hard to keep up but Gaghan never insults their intelligence and keeps things entertaining by grounding his characters in reality.

Clooney, especially, provides a masterly performance as the disillusioned CIA assassin who is desperate to spend more time with his son and make amends for the errors of his past while struggling to cope with the new conspiracy he finds himself in.

While Damon tackles the complexity of his role – as both determined businessman and grieving father – with heartbreaking realism.

There are times when the film feels a little over-ambitious and fails to do justice to the many story arcs it presents – both personal and political – but given the importance of its themes, Syriana remains a powerful, if bleak, exploration of a situation that defies easy solutions.

It is another of this year’s must-see movies.

George Clooney interview

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 6mins