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Syriana (2005)

A 2005 drama directed by Stephen Gaghan about conflict in a fictitious Middle Easter country.

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A captivating and entertaining look at the politics of oil.

  • Dec 9, 2005
Pros: Great Cast, complex story, interesting characters.

Cons: May seem a bit Liberal for some.

The Bottom Line: A solid film that regardless of your views, will make you think.

Oil, is perhaps the most precious natural resource on the planet and also one of the most controversial. It powers industry and the economies of many nations, yet the regions that contain the largest amounts are often the most unstable, and this instability often results from the influences of the very nations that purchase the oil.

It is a tenuous situation where buyer and seller are wary of one another and at times regard the other as a necessary evil. The money paid for the oil has made suppliers and handlers rich and powerful, but many on the outside of this privileged circle believe that greed has caused both sides to lose focus on what is most important for the people of their nations.

In the film Syriana viewers follow the paths of different people from various walks of life who for the most part do not know one another, yet are all linked by the same cause, oil.

There is the C.I.A. agent Bob Barnes (George Clooney), who spends time in locales such as Iran and Beirut eliminating threats to national security.
A lawyer, (Jeffrey Wright), who is caught in the middle as he attempts to find, and if need be eliminate damaging material that can prevent a pending merger between two oil companies.

There is the grieving energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), who deals with his loss by siding up with a powerful Prince, (Alexander Siddig), even at the alienation of his family.

There is also a displaced Pakistani worker who after losing his job when a Chinese company acquires the refinery where he worked, falls in with a group of radicals with a militant agenda.

The above is just a small sampling of the characters as there are numerous business, political, and Middle Eastern citizens who all play very prominent parts in the story.

The main focus of the film is not only to illustrate the connectivity between the characters but to show how politics and big business influence policy in oil rich nations and how through secret deals, political intrigue, and treachery policy in and towards the same oil producing nations are set into place and maintained.

While this is not much of a shock to people who follow the news, it is the way that director Stephen Gaghan uses ordinary and in some ways unremarkable people to tell the story and how it affects those who deal with oil.

Even those who are supposed the big players are often simply being played by forces outside their control in a world where reality and perceptions are often miles apart. The complex nature of the story is actually a model of simplicity as cause and effect, as well as the ability of big business to influence lawmakers is what drives the film.

The cast is strong especially Clooney and Siddig who make their characters sympathetic while at the same time captivating. The contrast of the men who are a Prince and an agent, yet whose destinies often cause them to walk along the same paths is amazing.

Syriana is an amazing film that is so complex in its simplicity. The basic message is very clear, yet the layers that must be uncovered like a tangled web of lies in telling the story is a far reaching journey that will shock and anger most viewers.

Some may find fault with a so called liberal agenda to the film, but politics aside, “Syriana” is a very captivating and entertaining film that makes you think.
4.5 stars out of 5
Gareth Von Kallenbach
Skewed and Reviewed.


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More Syriana (2005 film) reviews
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This movie did a great job of showing how an unassuming guy can get caught up in suicide bombing in one of the subplots.
review by . May 21, 2009
Stephen Gaghan is a smart man. He must have known that a guy like me would go an see the movie no fewer than 4 times, just to figure out what the heck is going on. At $8 a pop, that's $32 that I've contributed to the film's $50 Million domestic gross. Not that I'm complaining. In fact, I'm all the better for it. This is a smart film that is so well written that it's not necessary to connect all the dots in order to appreciate the picture. In fact, not connecting the dots may be the point here...   &n …
review by . March 25, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Oil, Blood, and Tears
2005 proved to be a year of politically and socially conscious films, and among these topical films Syriana stood out from the rest. Directed and written by Stephen Gaghan (Traffic), and inspired by the book See No Evil written by former C.I.A. operative Robert Baer, Syriana is an enigmatic and charismatic drama. Writer/director Stephen Gaghan has created a complex, provocative film that takes aim at the oil industry, political corruption, corporate greed, extremist fundamentalism,  and international …
review by . August 06, 2006
"Munich" was much more successful as a piece of entertainment, with an exciting thriller plot and more fully developed characters. The people in "Syriana" are just pawns in a diplomatic game, and maybe that's the point, but it doesn't make them interesting to watch. Moreover, when the filmmakers attempt to add human interest (e.g. a family tragedy befalls Matt Damon's character), it doesn't work. The ending sequence is nicely suspenseful, and ties some of the disparate plot lines together, but the …
review by . June 23, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Stephen Gaghan is a master psychologist in addition to being a uniquely creative writer and director. He knows how to take a controversial topic, spread it over a period of time and from vantages that involve everyone who would ever view his information, and pace a film in such away that his viewers must stay glued to the screen and soundtrack so that not a moment of the powerful bits of intrigue he is relating fall out of place. It worked for TRAFFIC: it is stunningly effective in SYRIANA.    S …
review by . May 25, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
"Syriana" is a complicated, but thought-provoking film. It has been said time and again that the movie has too many threads to follow. That may be true, but you don't need a notebook to appreciate this movie. Getting the gist of the plot is a better idea and just go along for the ride. The characters are well-done, the tension is formidable, and the revelations are relevant and interesting. We are asked to follow all of the main players in the world oil market, including an American oil broker in …
About the reviewer
Gareth Von Kallenbach ()
Ranked #109
I am a syndicated movie & game critic, writer, author and frequent radio guest. My work has appeared in over 60 publications worldwide and he is the creator of the rising entertainment site "Skewed … more
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About this movie


Syriana is an oil-based soap opera set against the world of global oil cartels. It is to the oil industry as Traffic was to the drug trade (no surprise, since writer/director Stephen Gaghan wrote the screenplay to Traffic): a sprawling attempt to portray the vast political, business, social, and personal implications of a societal addiction, in this case, oil. A major merger between two of the world’s largest oil companies reveals ethical dilemmas for the lawyer charged with making the deal (Jeffrey Wright), and major global implications beyond the obvious; a CIA operative (George Clooney) discovers the truth about his work, and the people he works for; a young oil broker (Matt Damon) encounters personal tragedy, then partners with an idealistic Gulf prince (Alexander Siddig) attempting to build a new economy for his people, only to find he’s opposed by powers far beyond his control. Meanwhile, disenfranchised Pakistani youths are lured into terrorism by a radical Islamic cleric. And that’s just the start. As in Traffic, in one way or another all of the characters’ fates are tied to each other, whether they realize it or not, though the connections are sometimes tenuous. While Syriana is basically a good film with timely resonance, it can’t quite seem to measure up to Gaghan’s ambitious vision and it very nearly collapses under the weight of its many storylines. Fortunately they are resolved skillfully enough to keep the film from going ...
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Director: Stephen Gaghan
Genre: Drama, Thriller
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Robert Baer, Stephen Gaghan
DVD Release Date: June 20, 2006
Runtime: 128 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
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