Director: Stephen Gaghan
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, William Hurt, Amanda Peet
Running Time: 128 min.
** (out of ****)
I like to think I can go into any movie objectively. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we're all guilty of occasionally bringing our preconceived notions to the movies we see whether we want to or not. It's up to that film to challenge those notions and win us over.
That said, I went into Syriana knowing nothing about oil company corruption and turmoil in the Middle East. I left knowing what I knew going in. Granted this isn't a topic I'm interested in at all, but shouldn't the movie have made me interested? The film's confusing for sure, but that may have been the least of it's problems. It's so narrative heavy and dialogue intensive that by the end that I didn't care about a single character involved in its cross-cutting storyline threads.
I'm not going to waste time on plot details, but the basic premise involves a major oil company merger that inspires a government investigation. At the center of this is CIA agent Bob Barnes (George Clooney), a lawyer investigating the merger named Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright), and industry analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon). They're all caught in one way or another in a web of deception. I think. Who knows? Who cares? They talk and talk about all the big things that are going down even though we don't have a clue what they are and nothing actually happens. By the end of the film there's a payoff of sorts but I was too exhausted to care by then.
The movie's saving graces are that it's well shot, directed, and features at least one compelling performance. It comes from Matt Damon, who plays the only character in the film I remotely cared about. His story arc at least has an intriguing angle that pits his personal and professional beliefs against one another. George Clooney won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work here, which doesn't go much beyond gaining 25 pounds and growing a beard. There's a scene where he's tortured mercilessly. That's how I felt at times during the 128 minutes.
The film was written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, the Traffic scribe who previously filmed the Katie Holmes guilty pleasure thriller Abandon. It may not have been about a serious issue like oil in the Middle East, but I challenge anyone to watch it then attempt to tell me honestly they were more entertained by this. While attempting to provoke thought on a timely topic, Syriana instead succeeds at provoking frustration and confusion.