Monday, January 30, 2006


2005, US, directed by Stephen Gaghan

There's not a lot to send you home smiling after a viewing of Syriana, irrespective of your politics. It's hard, though, to dispute the central thesis that the vast sums of money to be made in the oil business create great temptations to bend the rules (not a highly original thought, of course). The focus of this film is squarely on the Middle East, and there are multiple storylines, interweaving boardroom shenanigans with the schemes of Saudi princes, as well as the realities, on the ground, for Middle Eastern oil workers. For good measure, there's a CIA plotline, too, with assassinations and under-the-counter arms sales. If all this sounds like Traffic with oil instead of drugs, it's no accident. Stephen Gaghan scripted that earlier film, too, and clearly picked up a few directorial pointers from Steven Soderbergh. At times, it's clear that Gaghan has bitten off more than he can chew: at least one of the plotlines could profitably have been dropped. It's refreshing, nonetheless, to see a mainstream film grappling with big issues and avoiding happy endings (the film also makes excellent use of its location footage). There are several standouts in the large cast, including Chris Cooper, Jeffrey Wright, and George Clooney. The latter's willingness to look bad on camera, particularly in a truly brutal scene of violence, is part of a convincing attempt to chronicle the impact of an especially dirty war on one individual.

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