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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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Oil, Blood, and Tears

  • Mar 25, 2009

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 relations. These "issues" are typical fodder for filmmakers, particularly since the 9/11terrorist attacks and the so-called "War on Terror".

Who is the real terrorist?

But what separates Syriana from other films with a sociological backbone is its unusually fair and balanced perspective. Rather than being a simple knee-jerk liberal reaction to the George Bush administration's foreign policies, the film instead transcends the gap between the Left and the Right. Syriana looks at its subjects with a level of honesty and integrity that is rare in politically inspired films. The world is neither a black nor white place and this can be seen quite clearly in Syriana. What the film does, and does rather brilliantly, is takes us, as viewers, into a world where anyone can be corrupted, misled, manipulated, and where good and evil are too narrow-minded terms to use to describe the people involved in geo-political controversies. The film doesn't exploit the racial, cultural, or political stereotypes that we, as Americans, have become so familiar with. Instead it paints a bleak picture, and a realistic one, about how idealism can be tainted, how ambition can lead to corruption, and how innocence can be stolen away. Syriana looks at the world, not through the tinted lens of the egocentric and politically biased observer, but through the many perspectives of its characters. What they see and what we see may not be immediately be identifiable, but it becomes apparent that the problems we face aren't exclusive to one particular culture, and that only together with hope, trust, and better communication will we ever find a solution.

Western greed meets Eastern suspicion... 


Burnt out C.I.A. operative Bob Barnes has always been loyal to his country, but after years of faithful service to the United States government, Bob finds himself out of the loop. He discovers that for the past twenty years that he's been naïve, that he hasn't been protecting just his country, but also the economic interests of the oil industry. On one of Bob's latest assignments he accidentally helps an Egyptian terrorist access an American missile.

Meanwhile two major oil companies, Connex and Killen, plan a merger that will ensure that the U.S. tops any other countries when it comes to the availability of cheap oil. In the midst of all this Bennett Holiday is asked to act as an advocate for the merger, but soon he becomes caught up in the greed and immoral practices of the heads of the companies. Bennett becomes the integral center of a conspiracy to go ahead with the merger, all the while he suffers a crisis of conscience.

When Bryan Woodman is invited to visit Emir Al-Subaai, at his summer home in Marabella Spain, he decides to bring his family along. But Bryan's world is turned upside down after the tragic death of his older son. Soon Bryan and his wife, Julie, find themselves at odds when Bryan is asked to serve as an economic advisor to Prince Nasir Al-Subaai. The prince turns out to be a truly remarkable man with dreams of modernizing his country through social and political reform. However, Prince Nasir's ideas conflict with the plans of both the U.S. government and the oil industry, which makes him a target for assassination.

In the Persian Gulf thousands of immigrant workers from the Middle East are laid off because of the upcoming merger of Connex and Killen. Two young men, Wasim and Farooq, are among those who lose their jobs as well as their immigration permits. Wasim's father also loses his job. After witnessing firsthand the greed, corruption, and violence of western culture Wasim and Farooq are lured into the ranks of an Islamic terrorist group that offers them religious guidance, and promises to help them with their families' financial troubles. In return Wasim and Farooq must give up their lives for the cause of the fundamental extremists, who wish to use the stolen U.S. missile to destroy an oil tanker.

As all of their paths converge it becomes clear that Connex-Killen is responsible for numerous crimes and that they've been aided by corrupt agencies within the government. As Bob learns of this he sees that he must redeem himself, but can he stop what's already been set in motion?


An act of violence and faith...

With his screenplay, Stephen Gaghan creates an intricate and complex narrative that weaves together the lives of people on both side of the Atlantic. The story is told through multiple perspectives, which gives the film a sense of depth, culturally as well as psychologically. Yet this isn't a film driven by detailed characterization so much as a film that uses believable characters to support a theme or idea.

To help lend a sense of authenticity and reality to the characters, Gaghan has assembled a phenomenal cast, all of whom are wonderful in their respective roles. The ensemble cast includes George Clooney as Bob Barnes, Matt Damon as Bryan Woodman, Jeffrey Wright as Bennett Holiday, Chris Cooper as Jimmy Pope, Christopher Plummer as Dean Whiting, Amanda Peet as Julie Woodman, Tim Blake Nelson as Danny Dalton, Mazhar Munir as Wasim Khan, Alexander Siddig as Prince Nasir Al-Subaai, Nadim Sawalha as Emir Hamed Al-Subaai, and William Hurt as Stan.


The DVD includes "A Conversation with George Clooney" interview, "Make a Change, Make a Difference" featurette, deleted scenes, and a theatrical trailer.

Oil, Blood, and Tears Oil, Blood, and Tears Oil, Blood, and Tears Oil, Blood, and Tears Oil, Blood, and Tears

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March 27, 2009
nice review. This was a lot better than the most recent fare from Hollywood about this concept. I did like this film, but I was also a little surprised that I didn't like it as much as I wanted to.
March 27, 2009
You know which film critic really bothers me? Ben Lyons. You know this kid would never have gotten a job anywhere if he wasn't Jeffrey Lyons' son. I remember his comments on MICHAEL CLAYTON on some tv show. He said something very much like "Its a George Clooney film and I don't understand it so it must be good." I guess he based that on his experience with SYRIANA. Or with his limited intelligence maybe it was INTOLERABLE CRUELTY that he couldn't understand. This one is the only Clooney film I haven't see yet but I actually do own a copy. Blockbuster had one on sale (used of course) for $2. Now that I have a nice road map to follow perhaps its time to watch it. I wouldn't want to get lost and accidentally run into Ben Lyons.
March 28, 2009
That's funny Queen. This was George's big Oscar winner and it's the one film that you haven't seen. I guess you're like me in that you don't pay much heed to hollow hype and empty accolades. It's a definite must-see and I'll look forward to hear what you think. It's certainly one of the most complex and intricate political films that I've seen.
March 28, 2009
Yeah, odd isn't it.
March 30, 2009
Downright uncanny, if you ask me. ;)
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 . 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 …
review by . December 09, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
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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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