It’s 8:52 on a Monday night and I have just finished watching Syriana. I wanted to write that down so I can remember that this is the most mentally exhausted and politically uneasy I have ever felt after watching a film. This film not only condemns, but paradoxically accepts everything that it is warning its viewers against and it is guaranteed to leave you breathless, confused, and worried.
I can not simply summarize the plot of this film and still do it justice. There is just way too much that would have to be said. At its most simple, this film is about oil and the many different people who want it and are willing to do absolutely anything to beat out their competitors. Connex is a United States energy giant who is attempting to merge with a small oil company, Killen, after they won rights to drill in the much sought after Kazakhstan. Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) is an attorney who is hired to promote an image of due diligence for Connex after they have been accused of corruption, but Holiday soon finds himself mixed up in the corruption himself. Bob Barnes (George Clooney) is a CIA Officer who is used as a scapegoat for his own department after a botched assassination attempt on the emirate’s foreign minister and son of a natural gas magnate, Prince Nasir al-Subaai. Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) is an energy analyst who soon becomes the Prince’s financial advisor after the tragic death of their son at on of the emir’s private parties. Finally, Saleem Ahmed Khan is an ex-factory worker who soon becomes a follower of a friendly Islamic fundamentalist cleric. All of these stories are expertly woven together to form a political epic that spans many different countries and people.
Trying to wrap your head around this entire plot and how everyone fits together would be a very difficult thing to do after only one viewing. Much like I said in my review of Good Night, and Good Luck, this film demands your full attention and expects the viewer to be intelligent and even a little politically and economically savvy. But even if the plot feels too complex and layered, the entire point of the film is to give faces to these big companies and governments. Holiday represents the justice system, Barnes represents America’s covert government, Khan represents the very human followers of certain extremists, and Woodman represents a family man lost in the middle of all of the international chaos.
The painful part of this movie is that it may be a work of fiction, but activities and business that is seen conducted in this movie is very real and very dangerous. Human beings like me and you are caught in international fraud and deception just so they can be ahead in whatever game they find themselves in, even if they are running the risk of losing their own life. This isn’t a movie that was made solely for the sake of entertainment, even though it did entertain me the whole way through, but rather it is a narrative speaking out against people like the gentleman seen in the video above ranting and raving about the positive nature of corrupt business.
George Clooney won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor 2005 for his role as Bob Barnes. He put on 35 pounds for the film and regrets it indefinitely to this day. While shooting a particularly cringe worthy scene, Clooney injured his spine and was forced to stay in a hospital bed for three weeks and deal with his excruciating body pain and migraine headaches. He even came out and said he didn’t think he could live anymore with the pain he was enduring. What would our world be without George Clooney?
Syriana is a terrifying look at the hidden world that companies we want to trust keep hidden from us every day of our lives. The word “Syriana” is actually a term used by the American government that is a hypothetical state of peace between America and Syria in relation to oil. This is an interesting and deliberately ironic choice of title for a movie that is so focused on the tension and violence surrounding oil. Syriana is a complex and intelligent film that can be easily placed at the top of the list for political thriller films. It is expertly written, filmed, and acted. This is truly an unforgettable film that should not be missed.