Screenwriter: Stephen Gaghan
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright Mazhar Munir, Alexander Siddig
Running time: 128 mins
Inspired by CIA agent Robert Baer’s memoir See No Evil, Syriana is a political thriller with the spotlight on the dealings of the oil industry and their universal relevance to a vast number of people of eclectic walks of life. Taking the audience to various places across the globe, from corporate big-shots in America to the ill-treated oil workers in Iran, writer/director Stephen Gaghan (writer of Traffic) hopes to open eyes to the corruption inherent in the industry and its part in international affairs.
Gaghan uses multiple narratives, focusing on increasingly disillusioned CIA agent Bob Barnes (an Oscar-nominated Clooney), energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Damon) and business lawyer Bennett Holiday (Wright) overseeing an important merger of oil companies. On the other side of the equation is redundant oil field worker Wasim (Munir) who falls in with a crowd of Islam extremists, and two princes (Siddig and Akbar Kurtha) with different ideas for the future of their land.
In some ways this approach hammers home the point that the events being portrayed have far reaching effects and also theoretically heightens its dramatic potential as a thriller as several stories intertwine. The downside is that it becomes a painfully confusing affair, frequently leaving the audience scratching their heads as to who’s doing what and why. The stories are compelling if you can follow them, but unfortunately this is no mean feat on the first viewing.
Thankfully though, Syriana is as engaging as it can be bewildering, a political conspiracy thriller riddled with intrigue, tension and urgency and a well-executed climax, even if 110% of your attention is needed to appreciate it fully.
The specifics may easily get muddled but the overall messages are clear enough – it’s a film designed to make you think. This is a film that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and invites debate over issues such as terrorism, exploitation of poor economies by the richer ones and the conservation of oil.
Syriana is a stylish, well-meaning political thriller containing an important truthful message; it’s just a shame that the numerous plotlines run a high risk of leaving most of the audience scratching their heads the first time around.