STUDIO: Warner
MSRP: $28.98
RUNNING TIME: 128 min.
• Additional Scenes
A Conversation with George Clooney
Make a Change, Make a Difference
• Theatrical Trailer

The Pitch

“Fill ‘er up… with the blood of your children!

The Humans

George Clooney (Return of the Killer Tomatoes), Matt Damon (The Legend of Bagger Vance), Jeffrey Wright (Angels In America), Chris Cooper (Silver City), Willliam Hurt (A Couch In New York), Mazhar Munir, Tim Blake Nelson (Cherish), Amanda Peet (Whipped), Christopher Plummer (Dreamscape), Alexander Siddig (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)

"One less car!"

The Nutshell

CHUD covered the hell out of this flick last year: dig these interviews with (click ’em!) writer/director Stephen Gaghan; actor Alexander Siddig; and real-life spy Robert Baer, whose book provided the basis for the film. And check out Devin’s theatrical review HERE.

The setup:

Bennett (Wright) is a lawyer working the background of a merger between two oil corporations. His job is to uncover dirty doings and find someone to blame for them before the Law can…

Wasim (Munir) is an impoverished oil-worker, laid off during the merger, who is taken in by proponents of a violent interpretation of Islam…

Bryan (Damon) is an energy analyst who aligns himself with a progressive Arab prince (Siddig), laying out a strategy that could shut out the American companies altogether…

Bob (Clooney) is an old-school CIA operative on the ground in the Middle East. His observations and opinions contradict U.S. hopes for the region, and upset powerful figures whose plans require more convenient ‘facts’…

The Olsens porn was totally worth it.

The common thread between all these storylines is summed up in the term “lethal finding”, a bloodless CIA euphemism for “death warrant”. Syriana depicts a world of corporations, families, agencies and sects that regularly betray their own people, sacrificing the future in an attempt to cling to the present, like a wolf chewing off its own foot to escape a trap. We are animals driven by instinct and addiction, Gaghan seems to be saying: the film’s title appears a cruel joke, invoking both a unified Middle East and the Cradle of Civilization itself. This is mankind. This is where we come from. This is us at our most human, for better and worse, and worse still.

"Let’s take care of those cuticles once and for all."

The Lowdown

It’s a credit to Gaghan that all this plot is paced as well as it is. What with setting up all the characters and their locations and their motivations, the actual story doesn’t get rolling until the film is more than half over. It reminds me of the Chess Puzzle in the daily paper. The pieces are all in position; we see the problem, but not the game that was played before.

Gaghan largely succeeds at communicating socio-political issues, though too many times he does it by having characters lecture each other: “This could be the most profitable corporation in America…” brags one, “provided we don’t start running automobiles on water, and provided there’s still chaos in the Middle East.” After a while, the exposition starts to blur together: in a world entirely populated by Plain Speakers, how can there possibly be any conspiracies?

"Dammit, Your Excellency. I can tell when someone’s giving me the bird."

Where the film really stumbles, though, is on the small scale. It’s no fault of the actors, who are almost uniformly excellent. What little we see of the characters’ personal lives may be interesting as metaphor, but rarely engages the emotions. The manner in which Bryan gains the favor of Prince Nasir is the most distracting: it’s a highly specific, high-profile set of circumstances, the sort of thing that would have made the news in real life. It leads the viewer to wonder about those events’ basis in fact versus their symbolic convenience, and dilutes what could have been an effective mini-drama about a man trying to balance family and career.

Syriana is an impressive overview of the factors that shape current world politics. It could stand to cut deeper, and name some names; this late in the game, the revelation that Everybody Uses Everybody isn’t much of a shock on its own. To quote a wise man: “The way the world works is not a secret.”

"I only regret that I had but two lips to give for my country!"

The Package

Anamorphic 2.35:1 video, Dolby 5.1 in English and French. Cinematographer Robert Elswitt manages to keep the many locales visually distinct without resorting to color-coding a la Traffic. Compression is evident in some darkly-lit scenes. The box art ditches the theatrical release’s cool ‘blindfolded’ design for a ‘look, there’s famous people here’ collage, and doesn’t convey much of what the flick is about.

The two featurettes focus on the ideology of the movie, with very little discussion of the production process. There are, however, several behind-the scenes glimpses of material not in the final film. Three of these deleted sequences are included, all spotlighting Clooney; they fill in some detail about Bob’s wife, who isn’t in the final cut at all.

Time to play Spot the Villain!

7.5 out of 10