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Plot: American oil companies Connex and smaller Killen are undergoing a merger, the new company named Connex-Killen. The move is in response to Connex losing a number of oil fields in the Persian Gulf region as Prince Nasir Al-Subaai, his country's foreign minister, and the oldest son of the Emir and… Runtime: 128 min Release Date: 23 Nov 2005
"Syriana" is a blistering, powerful film about the degree to which governments and corporate conglomerates place the ambition to control the world's oil supply above the well being of their citizens and employees. In this game, there are only bad guys, and what separates the villains from the protagonists is not a question of who's good and who's bad, but rather how bad each is willing to be.So maybe "Syriana" doesn't tell us anything new. But that doesn't mean its points aren't worth making again and again. And though it is complicated, and I'm <more>
not going to pretend I followed every detail of its intricate plot, it's not *that* hard to follow. Stephen Gaghan is a good writer, and he provides a nice summary of the film's action in its final moments.What emerges from this tangled puzzle is a web of corruption and self-interest, all fueled by the need for oil. In one plot thread, the men behind two soon-to-merge oil companies will stop at nothing to make the merger go through, since the new company will be one of the most powerful in the world. In another thread, the law firm representing the company proves that it's eager to cash in on the company's new economic success. Meanwhile, a power struggle between the two sons of an aging king in an unspecified Middle Eastern country though Saudi Arabia is obviously suggested has attracted the attention of the American government, operating through the CIA. America read American business has a vested interest in which of the king's sons succeeds him to the throne: It doesn't want the reform-minded eldest son, whose priorities will be building a country to benefit his own people; it wants instead the younger son, who will continue to relegate his country to a cosy spot in America's hip pocket and take its orders directly from the president of the USA. And in the film's most chilling plot strand, we see how the struggle for oil feeds the radical Islam movement in the Middle East, providing young men with a feeling of brotherhood and righteousness in the face of a region they feel has turned its back on them in favor of big business and Western corruption."Syriana" is tense, fast and furious. Following it can admittedly be somewhat exhausting, but if you pay very close attention to the first hour or so, as each story is introduced and the relationships between characters become clear, the second half of the movie is easier to digest.I disagree with other comments here that the characters aren't developed or that the acting is unimpressive. On the contrary, I think all of the actors create extremely nuanced, compelling characters, a challenging task given the fact that none of them are allowed more than a minute or so at a time to feed us information about themselves. A movie like this could easily fall prey to filling itself with a bunch of stock villains, all cocked eyebrows and facial mannerisms rather than full-bodied characterizations, and the fact that it avoids this is a tribute to both Gaghan and the cast. And hats off to the editor on this movie, who had perhaps the most daunting task of the year.2005 has been full of terse, important films, fresh in their immediacy. There have been a small number of sensational, tough, thought-provoking films instead of a larger batch of more mediocre ones, as has been the case recently. "Syriana" is one of the best movies of the year: it's angry, yet it's not hopeless. I hope Americans see this movie. At this time of year, when people are trampling each other in malls in order to be first in line for Christmas sales, I hope they remember that the vast wealth of America frequently comes at the sake of people all over the world who will never have a fraction of the comfort those in our country take for granted.Grade: A
A political slap in the face reality check (by nolarobert)
I walked out of this movie feeling pretty depressed. As a historian, I always knew there have been forces at work in our society that act against the best interest of the average citizen. This film does an excellent job of illustrating just how politics and big business conspire to preserve the status quo which also protects their power and profits. The global interaction depicted in this film shows how all actions have consequences. The thirst our nation has for oil drives the kind of political and business policies that cause anger and hatred towards our nation. This oil addiction has led <more>
to an unjust war that was started on lies and disinformation. The result has been the deaths of over 2000 US servicemen and women, thousands more injured and tens of thousands Iraqi dead and wounded. This act has been the best tool Islamic terrorist groups have ever had in attracting followers and money to their cause. Those that attack this film obviously buy into the fantasy that America is involved in Iraq and the Middle East due to our sincere desire to spread "democracy." Anyone who is willing to have an open mind will find this film to be chilling for the implications of the storyline. This film is a must see for those who care about how the behavior of our government and big business impacts us in our everyday lives and how it will contribute to further terrorist attacks for decades to come. A well researched story with excellent actors for the numerous roles. I will buy this as soon as it comes out on DVD.
Stephen Gaghan penned Traffic, which was the best film of 2000. Now with Syriana, he has developed a companion piece, with the oil industry as the backdrop rather than the drug trade. The irony of this is that the films show that both industries are corrupt to the core, but only one is legal.In fact, by the evidence of these two films, one could argue that the drug trade is the less sleazy of the two because it does not exist with the facade of legitimacy that surrounds the oil industry. If I was to make a list of the 10 best films of the decade so far, these would both be there.It is tough, <more>
if not impossible and perhaps even foolish to try and apply one thesis to this film, but for me, it is that what we as civilians call corruption is simply the culture of the oil business, one supported and nurtured by government, business, traders and lawyers. No-one knows why it exists, but it does, and if you cannot wade in it, you are out of the game.Syriana does not have a plot or a storyline, but it throws character and story and information at you by the bucketful. There is no warm up time. Gaghan goes out of his way to show that the people involved in this business are surrounded by a normal world with normal hopes and dreams. This is evident from the opening shot. A title card tells us we are in Tehran, but not a some stereotypical open market selling figs. It is a hip hop club.The main story of the film involves a possibly corrupt merger of two major American oil firms. From there, everything else fans out. THe story of Jeffrey Wright, the government official investigating the merger, George Clooney, the CIA operative with missions with no apparent goal, the Arab Emir from an unnamed oil producing country, and his two sons each wanting to take over his reign, the industry analyst Matt Damon who will use any situation to advance his firm, and the young, broke angry Arab youth who look for meaning in life and find it in the most dangerous way.Syriana is not a left wing movie, it is surprising a-political. It is not anti-American, but it most certainly lays blame on the US and the west for putting oil ahead of all other priorities. It is not sympathetic to terror, but its most compelling plot line tell us how a terrorist can be made from a bad combination of hopelessness, unemployment, anger and poverty.If you are looking for a neat and tidy ending, you will be frustrated. The film ends like a truck running into a brick wall, with all but one or two plots left hanging. It does not answer any questions because I believe that Gaghan is trying to show that no-one is really in charge and that no-one really knows what is going on.The acting is near perfect from everyone in the cast, including a small, two scene brilliant cameo by William Hurt and Oscar worthy work from Clooney and Alexander Siddig as the frustrated Arab prince.This is an important film and it is not to be missed. **** out of ****.
I just saw a sneak preview of this movie in Chicago. The story line is thoughtful and rather involving; the setup takes some time and mind-involvement. But upon reflection, the message is rather striking. Basically, the movie is comprised of several intertwining stories surrounding the merger of two large oil companies. The writer/director was present and afterwords he told stories that led to several points in the film. Basically he researched a ton and traveled the world to come up with this film. He used connections to several members of Middle Eastern royalty. Although the ending needs <more>
some work in my opinion, this movie is a must see for any political thriller fan. I understand this post doesn't say much, but I don't want to give too much away.
A great movie for those with more than half a brain. (by jcal101)
Syriana is an outstanding, visionary, and highly austere movie that is not for those who are seeking the typical mind numbing and empty claptrap produced by Hollywood these days. If you want to see explosions and cheap sexual titillation ala James Bond, look elsewhere. If you want though provoking and challenging movie, then this is the real deal though I realize that the vast majority of Americans these days view actual thinking with the same disdain as root canals . I think most people are missing the biggest point of the movie. The obvious main point is that the CIA works to directly <more>
support American business interests. No surprise there. The more elusive one and maybe even unintended is that by meddling in the very complex and convoluted politics of the region, the CIA continually creates and perpetuates the very problems it is trying to solve and therefore contributes to the social and economic disparities that perpetuate the lack of stability in the Middle East and which result in, for instance, terrorism. Oil is certainly the main theme of the movie, but references are also indirectly made to the global arms and drug trades. The point about CIA meddling is most directly brought up in the dialog between Woodman Matt Damon and Prince Nasir Al-Subaai Alexander Siddig a.k.a. Siddig El Fadil of Star Trek Deep Space 9 in the Prince's hotel room. In this dialog Woodman supplies a linty of historical political intrigues and wars fought to secure oil resources for the West in general, including the seizure of the Suez Canal Zone, the Gulf Wars, and the overthrow of the democratically elected government in Iran under Premier Mossadeq. Using this last real world event as an example, joint covert operations by the CIA and British Secret Intelligence Service SIS over through the government of Mossadeq in 1952-3 due to fears of Communism and because he nationalized Iran's considerable oil wealth. British Petrol moves in and makes tons of money. Sounds kind of familiar doesn't it? I mean the Iron Curtain doesn't exist anymore but Red China certainly does and if a certain fictional future Emir of Syriana were looking more to China than to the US, and even buying Chinese weapons and planes over American weapons, this could be a problem could it not? What is the result of the CIA's efforts? The Shah is established as a cruel and ineffectual dictator with a bleak human rights record, is subsequently overthrown, lives the rest of his life in southern California, some hostages are taken for a year or so, the country becomes a Fundamentalist Shi'a theocracy not very friendly to the West and financially supporting terrorism world wide, especially in Lebanon. The government of Lebanon is slowly destroyed, many people die, US Marines are sent in as peacekeepers, a lot of Marines die, the US is handed yet another foreign policy defeat. Oh, and not to mention Iran launching a major war against one of its neighbors Iraq , killing millions and involving the use of chemical WMDs, resulting in Iran having a population that is mostly under the age of 25, mostly male, mostly living below the parity poverty line, and with high unemployment.Other ways in which this theme is brought out and some of the minor points of the movie :Bob Barnes George Clooney is posing as an arms dealer and sells two American made stinger anti-aircraft missiles to an Iranian secret services agent presumably MOIS posing as an intermediary arms and drug dealer MDMA anyone? . One of the missiles immediately finds itself into the hands of an unidentified Egyptian cleric who happens to work in an Islamic school in the fictional Syriana . The other missile explodes in the trunk of the Iranian agent's car, killing him, his co-conspirator, and about half a dozen innocent bystanders. The minor point- American covert agents can participate in overtly terrorist acts themselves. Though precautions were taken to prevent the second missile from being successfully deployed against an aircraft the missile was fused to detonate at 10 feet after launch , it ties in to the end of the movie where a certain CEO Dean Whiting, played by Christopher Plummer , enjoying his strawberry juice and standing on the deck of a half full tanker at the newly opened terminal of the Connex-Killen just love those names corporation is about to be vaporized by a young terrorist armed, you guessed it, with the very same missile. Minor point- there is justice in the world. In between these two events, the CIA sets up one of its covert agents Barnes to take the fall for the killing of the Iranian agents as well as for the planned and soon to be completed elimination of a certain son of an Emir even though both acts were officially sanctioned . Of course, the right hand does not always know what the left is doing, and Barnes ends up being tortured by a fellow CIA agent in Beirut actually, a double agent working for both the CIA and Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran while trying to set up the assassination. Minor point: trust no one. Woodman Matt Damon , a low level American talking head living in Geneva, Switzerland with his family, becomes financial adviser to the Prince via the death of one of his sons and becomes the moral witness to the non-CIA based events. The funeral of his son also serves to show that America is alone in its dealings in the Middle East as shown by the reaction of his son's friends following the funeral playing as if nothing had happened at all . Like I said, this is a complex movie with many threads to draw together but it does so very well. The cinematography is simply beautiful in a bleak kind of way and depressing at the same time and worth the price of admission alone.
A new trend in "international conflict suspense" films? (by a_gibbs)
I hope producers take this film and reinvent the genre of the "Americans vs. them." Like all the films about USSR, Communists Russia, and other political regimes the Americans hate that we all saw in the early 80's to late 90's and even today sadly . This film will usher in this genre asking the questions of where our energy is coming from, where will our water come from next year, and where will our resources come from once we depleted them?The film itself is good because it turns the barrel upon the Americans. It also displays their strong influence in the Middle East. <more>
George Clooney is a CIA thug but Alexander Siddig plays Prince Nasir Al-Subaai, who in a American's view is a terrorist threat but in the view for what is better for the improvement of his country... he is FDR.Go see it. I loved it. Editing can get confusing, but it makes you pay attention. Slow at some points but if you have the ability to discuss the issues in the film go see it. If you don't have it go see the film then gain the ability to discuss these issue. This is important. Participant Productions as something going for them.
Maddening and infuriating but also fascinating like most things we don't understand when we're told we should. I kept hearing people around me whispering - Who's that? - What are they talking about? - William Hurt!? I haven't shoosh people in a movie theater in years but I did throughout "Syriana". The most compelling aspect is that I felt let into something and hear things I shouldn't. They're all baddies one way or another but then, what else is new. Stephen Gaghan, the writer director, devices a devilish web for us to get lost into. I was mesmerized by his <more>
self assuredness and although I didn't have any kind of emotional connection with "Syriana" whoever she or it is, I couldn't dismiss the experience so, well done, cinema comes in all shapes and flavors.
Initially I wanted to compare it with Traffic, same style and interwoven story lines, but the film itself stopped me from doing so. Thank you. Comparing films can so difficult, you know, the old apples v. oranges thing. This film stands on its own without the comparison or the similarities to Traffic.Just before I went to the movie theatre, I saw an interview with Steve Gaghan the director on the Charlie Rose Show, and probably this helped me to fit most of the pieces together. The scene where Bob Clooney is taken to visit Hezbollah leaders, is based on the exact experience the director had <more>
when researching the story. He said that most of the film was based on his or Bob's actual experiences.So what do we have....Oil, big oil, oil executives, oil analysts, oil geography, oil politics, big time oil power brokers, CIA, Islamic terrorists, Middle East culture....It's all there. And Steve Gaghan does a very good job in bringing it all together. His directorial debut. Very good acting all round, maybe the oldest boy and his mother Amanda Peet stand out.I walked out of the theatre in an emotional daze, if that's possible. I will see this film again.My coda.... What a rotten, ugly barrel of oil.
An Exhausting Tour of the Many Faces of Corruption Around Oil (by noralee)
In "Syriana," writer/director Stephen Gaghan uses the busy style of "Crash" and "Amores Perros" to illustrate the complex geopolitics behind oil. Each sector--regulators, "intelligence", lobbyists, grease-the-wheel-ers and cogs-in-the-wheel-ers, in the network of greed, idealism, self-interest, sophistication and naiveté, is represented by a different character followed through the movie to bring them together, directly or indirectly, into the climax.This technique to coordinate a huge ensemble of captivating character actors woven tightly together in <more>
a complex story is helped enormously by Robert Elswit's ever-moving camera shots as visually and sound edited by Tim Squyres, who had some experience with overlapping dialog and movement in a more literal upstairs/downstairs on Robert Altman's "Gosford Park." Alexandre Desplat's music adds to the tense mood.The variegation that Gaghan presents is almost staggering, even more ethically complicated than a Graham Greene Cold War noir. This is the first film I've seen that illustrates the diversity of clashing Islamic cultures and interests, despite that I couldn't keep their interests or motives all quite straight. Though the English subtitles which are commendably outlined in black for unusual legibility wipe out some of the distinctions, we can infer that Iranians are speaking Farsi, Pakistanis' Urdu and others speaking Arabic, all with varying fluency and mutual cultural comprehension, let alone manipulators who can speak anything besides their native tongues. We've seen immigrants and guest workers in films critical of Western countries, but not the resentment-brewing conditions of badly treated non-citizens in the oil-rich Persian Gulf states, like the fictional one here which looks a lot like Dubai or Brunei, where clusters of modern skyscrapers contrast with Bedouin goat herders. It does help for background on the fascinating side plot of the radicalized young Arabs to see "Paradise Now" about Palestinian terrorists to explain particular details of their training.While each character is specifically set within a believable home and family setting, some are painted with too easy and broad strokes. While Alexander Siddig seems to have the monopoly on naively idealistic Arabs, as his similar character in "Kingdom of Heaven" against another Crusades, history is littered with the interim, modernizing liberal tragically caught between powerful forces. Though the proliferation of Western-educated Arab intellectuals in movies is beginning to sound like all those Japanese generals in World War II movies who went to USC or whatever; at least he went to Oxford and not Harvard. Matt Damon's un-Bourne-like energy analyst just sounds simplistic even when he's truth-telling, but we also see that he's already slid down the slippery slope of ethics in the crossing of his personal and professional lives. That so many of the oil and gas executives have Texas accents superb Chris Cooper, Tim Blake Nelson, Robert Foxworth does seem to say that the decades of business and political corruption there, as documented in Robert Caro's biography of LBJ, have simply been extended to a global scale.The film is also unusual in focusing on the role of lawyers negotiating the deals between companies and governments. While Christopher Plummer's Ivy League senior partner type has been seen as a shadowy force in countless paranoid thrillers, Jeffrey Wright is completely unpredictable and tightly wound, though the point of his relationship with his cynical alcoholic father isn't exactly clear except maybe as his conscience. We see before our eyes he goes from, as his mentor says, "a sheep into a lion." Most films have prosecutors like David Clennon's U.S. attorney as a hero against corruption, instead of being chillingly dismissed as "trust fund lawyers." But the script is so full of such epigrams, like "In this town, you're only innocent until you're investigated," that one character calls another on issuing them too brightly.While from the beginning I couldn't quite follow all the machinations around George Clooney's character, he is wonderful at transforming from his usual Cary Grant suave to harried, dedicated, mid-level bureaucrat who literally won't toe the Company line in a dangerous hierarchy that's shown to be a bit more competent than in real life, that reminded me both in the gut and guts of Russell Crowe's Wigand in the tobacco wars in "The Insider." It recalls how benign corrupt spooks looked in their personal lives, as there's much conversation here about houses, cars and college tuition. Indirectly, the film implicitly shows the dangers to Valerie Plame from her outing as a CIA operative, as families and personal connections are constantly used as threats and bargaining chips.Significantly, there is not a single mention amidst all these Mideast chicaneries, plots and plans of the Zionist entity, proving that pro or anti-Israel policies are smoke screens around the main draw -- oil.Movie-wise, these characters seem a lot like the gangsters and their conseglieres in "The Godfather" carving up Cuba and drug rights, let alone Gordon Gekko extolling "Greed is good" as the ultimate ideology, and fits right in with this year's other geo-political thrillers "The Constant Gardener" and "Lord of War," and those weren't even about natural resources. It works better than the re-make of "The Manchurian Candidate" because even though the focal point is a fictional country the issues are real, not science fiction. So does this make you ready to get out of your car and onto the train? Because until then, we'll still need lots of that oil from the Middle East.