Film Review: Syriana
Released today. The official website as usual needs a bit of bandwith.
Director/Writer: Stephen Gaghan
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, Alexander Siddig
Gaghan (acclaimed for his screenplay for Traffic) manages a multi-layered twisting thriller that is nevertheless intelligible and enjoyable even with Matt Damon.
The written synopsis is far more convoluted than it plays out, suffice to say Clooney is the CIA operative man-in-the-middle for all manner of US-Middle East oil scheming involving politicians, Arabian princes, Muslim terrorists, American corporations, Lebanese Hizbollah and oil futures analysts. There is action, adventure and a hefty travel itinerary needed to get from a conspiracy to double-cross the Iranians in a tin-pot arms deal to a conspiracy to take over a Gulf State's oil reserves.
This movie is a critique of the US world order as much as it is of it's internal politics. It could be just another lefty whinge from the liberal elite on a Bush-bashing outing - but these issues transcend whatever muppet sits in the oval office at the moment. The historical background to the various players are wedged into the mix sparingly. This is no preachy excercise it is a pot-boiler of intrigue, high-stakes and ruthless men - and Damon's wife trying to insert some female-ness into the testosterone zone with a traumatic episode to get over with their child is tolerable.
Clooney put on some weight for this role and the torture scene isn't his sexiest on-screen moment. We want Damon to get the same treatment but it never seems like happening: ditto wife. Wright as the super-straight lawyer does a fine job as we see him get with the corporate programme over the length of his investigation and also the relationship with what appears to be his enigmatic father. Cooper's ruddy faced, Texas tough-guy, oil man character is right on the money, literally; and the two Arab princes vying for power are disturbingly similar in looks and inclination to Uday and Qusay Hussein and are thus the best cast decisions of all.
As far as pace goes it is just right and as for the characters, they are just far-right. It's an engaging, watchable, topical, thoughtful thriller.
I'll give it a 4 out of 5. But I wouldn't blame those who would deduct at least half a point for having to cope with the always weak, pretty-boy, blank-face Matt Damon.