Follow Us on Twitter

Syriana - Preview

George Clooney in Syriana

Preview by Jack Foley

HOLLYWOOD looks set to become very political over the coming months, what with at least three major films tackling relevant issues – both past and present.

Steven Spielberg’s Munich has attracted most of the attention due to the controversy surrounding it, while George Clooney’s second film as director, Goodnight, and Good Luck, takes a look at how journalist Ed Murrow took on the McCarthy Committee and contains interesting parallels to modern events.

Clooney takes centre-stage again in Syriana, a powerful espionage thriller set in the Middle East. The film marks the directorial debut of Stephen Gaghan, who won an Oscar for Best Screenplay for his work on Traffic, and features a very strong ensemble cast, including Christopher Plummer, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Peet and Chris Cooper.

Clooney stars as Bob Barnes, a veteran CIA agent whose last secret mission is to get rid of Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig). However, things become more complicated than he imagined and he finds himself him in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy involving government corruption, oil and international terrorism.

Of the other cast member, Damon portrays an energy man whose ethics become vulnerable after the horrific loss of one of his sons, while Plummer and Wright play a pair of Washington-based lawyers who must choose between the government’s special interests and what’s best for the world.

Gaghan has deliberately given Syriana a documentary-like feel, using handheld cameras and shooting on location in a bid to add to the believability of the complex plot. Clooney also learned to speak Arabic and put on 30lb for the role (during which he also received his back injury).

Syriana is inspired by the true story of former CIA agent Robert Baer and his book See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism.

According to Gaghan in the film’s press notes: “We are living in complex, difficult times and I wanted Syriana to reflect this complexity in a visceral way, to embrace it narratively. There are no good guys and no bad guys and there are no easy answers. The characters do not have traditional character arcs; the stories don’t wrap up in neat little life lessons, the questions remain open. The hope was that by not wrapping everything up, the film will get under your skin in a different way and stay with you longer. This seemed like the most honest reflection of this post 9-11 world we all find ourselves in.”

Certainly, the film is seen as a potential Oscar contender and has won a Golden Globe nomination for Clooney as best supporting actor.

US reaction

Critics in America also responded to it well, hailing it as a complex but intelligent thriller with its finger on the pulse of current events.

The Los Angeles Times, for instance, referred to it as ‘a fearless and ambitious piece of work, made with equal parts passion and calculation, an unapologetically entertaining major studio release with compelling real-world relevance, a film that takes numerous risks and thrives on them all’

While The Washington Post noted that ‘what’s so powerful about the film is the rich stories it tells and how it leads them like so many human tributaries to one black, bubbling source’.

Newsday, meanwhile, opined: “Somehow, the movie convinces you, through its strengths of characterization and atmosphere, that it’s showing a little of how the world really works – and that the world’s dark machinations are every bit as sordid and pitiless as your worst suspicions.”

Strong, too, was The New York Times which referred to it as ‘a complex, intriguing narrative about oil, terrorism, money and power’, while Entertainment Weekly wrote that ‘Syriana has a lot of big, important things to say about big, important things, and it says them with a sense of urgency’.

Slightly less impressed, however, was the San Francisco Chronicle which wrote that ‘It’s hard to get passionately swept away by a movie when you’re struggling continually to figure out who’s doing what to whom and why’.

While The New York Observer concluded: “One can say of Mr Gaghan, Mr Soderbergh and Mr Clooney that their heads may be in the right place in Syriana, but their hearts are not much in evidence as far as any emotional investment in their characters is concerned.”

But USA Today was a fan, describing it as ‘thought-provoking and unnerving, emotionally engaging and intellectually stimulating’.

While the Boston Globe felt that it was ‘intelligent, political, incensed, timely, and appropriately cynical’.

The final word, however, goes to the Globe and Mail, which concludes: “Syriana isn’t the perfect guide, but its torch probes the darkness further than most and shines brightly enough that blindness can no longer can be our excuse.”

The film is released in the UK on March 3, 2006.