Overly Ambitious and Too Complicated
The road to making an incomprehensible movie is paved with good intentions. Take Syriana, for example. Writer/director Stephen Gaghan, who also wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Traffic, obviously wanted to show how financial greed by big oil companies corrupts U.S. actions in the Middle East -- a timely idea and one certainly not difficult to understand. But by presenting four major plot lines, each played out in alternating short snippets, and introducing more characters than necessary, filmmaker Gaghan fails to involve the viewer in a meaningful way. His story becomes almost too complicated to comprehend, and I lost interest in it after about 20 minutes, despite a couple of fine performances by George Clooney and Matt Damon who, unfortunately, receive only limited screen time.
At the heart of the matter is a struggle between a Good Prince (Alexander Siddig) and a Bad Prince (Akbar Kurtha). Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck) portrays a world-weary CIA operative involved in a covert assassination attempt against an idealistic Middle East prince who plans to institute democratic reforms in his country if he becomes Emir instead of his brother. The U.S. prefers the brother because he will continue to buy our military products and support our policies. Damon (The Bourne Identity) is an eager financial advisor to the idealistic prince.
The other storylines include a young Pakistani (Mazhar Munir) who falls in with a radical Muslim group and a U.S. lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) assigned to investigate a questionable oil company merger. Other miscellaneous characters -- played by Christopher Plummer, Tim Blake Nelson, Robert Foxworthy, Chris Cooper, Amanda Peet, William Hurt and others -- pop in and out with varying degrees of success. The best of the bunch is Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), whose tirade about how “corruption is why we win” evokes memories of Michael Douglas’ ode to greed in Wall Street.
Although billed as a political thriller, Syriana lacks the thrills and suspense promised in its impressive previews. It also fails to include exciting action scenes, in-depth character development or visual continuity. However, the movie’s harrowing torture scene might earn Clooney a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination in addition to his Golden Globe nod already announced. That scene emerges as the one unforgettable moment of this disappointing film, which also features the most unsatisfactory ending of the year.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “R” for violence and language.)