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92 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars pay attention to the details
I would say this plot offers up more suspense and intriguing details than any Tom Clancy movie I've ever seen. It wasn't until about an hour into the story that things finally started to make sense. But, from that point on, I was hanging onto every word and piecing together every detail.

The trick to understanding this movie before it's over is to remember the...
Published on July 8, 2006 by DL

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plotless matrix of intrigues
This is a stylish-looking intrigue thriller evocative of sound bites and headlines from the Middle East near the beginning of the 21st century. Based loosely on CIA operative Robert Baer's memoir, See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Solder in the CIA's War on Terrorism (2003), the main point of the movie seems to be that our need for oil compromised our efforts to...
Published on February 15, 2007 by Dennis Littrell

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92 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars pay attention to the details, July 8, 2006
DL (Chula Vista, California United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Syriana (Widescreen Edition) (DVD)
I would say this plot offers up more suspense and intriguing details than any Tom Clancy movie I've ever seen. It wasn't until about an hour into the story that things finally started to make sense. But, from that point on, I was hanging onto every word and piecing together every detail.

The trick to understanding this movie before it's over is to remember the names. Once you get to the point when you know who's who, everything else unfolds from there.

So, what's going on?

Matt Damon is a financial advisor to Prince Nassir. Prince Nassir's family just approved a deal for the chinese to come in and set up shop as oil drillers, as the chinese offered the highest bid.

However, the US wants to cut the chinese out of the picture so that the newly merged connex and the smaller oil company can do their thing in place of the chinese.

So, now we're at that scene when the old guy is talking to Prince Nassir's younger brother on the yacht. What you have to infer is that the "wish" that Nassir's younger brother wants the "cat's paw" to grant is to have his older brother, Prince Nassir, assassinated. In return for the favor, the US will get the oil contract instead of the chinese.

That's when the CIA have George Clooney arrange for Prince Nassir to be assassinated. However, you know that doesn't work out. You might recall the torture scene. After Clooney narrowly escapes certain death, the torturer threatens to reveal the CIA's assassination attempt to the media.

Next we see Clooney threatening the old man in the cafe. A trusted co-worker had informed him that the old man is setting him up to be the fall guy for any negative backlash resulting from the exposure of the failed assassination attempt.

Once Clooney is able to get his passports back, he attempts to intercept Prince Nassir on the desert freeway and warn him of the danger to his life. In the freeway scene, Nassir has re-established relations with the Chinese; and with the help of 9 out of 11 of the country's generals, he is attempting to de-throne his conniving, ambitious younger brother.

So, everything else is pretty much straightforward.

Syrania illustrates the following points of controversy:

1. The US uses its intelligence community resources to eliminate opposition to its oil interests.

2. US government watchdogs are helpless to make an impact on anti-trust violations committed by oil companies, while the intelligence community acts as an accomplice to those violations.

3. The US strategically ensures that oil producing countries do not improve their infrastructure, economy..etc., so as to keep them more easily controlled.

Again, those are the points of view illustrated by this movie; they are not my own.
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104 of 114 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Syriana is not for Everyone; Then for Who..?, March 4, 2006
I won't try to restate or expand upon previous reviews found here for Syriana. Many contributors have offered a better reviews of the content of Syriana than I could describe.

But I will point out that whether Syriana is for you or not, has more to do with the movie-goer, than the movie itself.


1) Can you check your political prejudices at the front door?

2) Are you willing to attempt to follow four "chess games" simultaneously?

3) Have you the courage to feel really upset at the end?

If you can answer "YES" to all three questions, then Syriana may just be one of the most worthwhile movie releases of 2005.

If you answered "NO" to any of these points, you'd better pass on Syriana.
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56 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative film lost to an audience expecting "24"-the movie, February 7, 2006
Gagan's ideas based film -- while lacking the visual virtuosity of Traffic -- raises some very interesting questions indeed. But all is lost to a collective audience who thinks the "24" is complex and challenging or "Crash" is deep...

It seems that the US audience are so used to "film as pure sensory entertainment" that it infuriated them when nothing is resolved. I find most "bad reviews" (either here or in the press) are laced with misinformation, xenophobia, partisanship bias and juvenille comments. It is unfortunate that doing a narratively complex film offering an alternative view (esp. regarding terrorism) would incite more hate and ignorance as opposed to dialogue.

I find the film to be very well made and the issues it raises are very interesting (esp to those informed in Network systems and the Chaos theory), to a certain extent, Matt Damon, the actor and the narrative his character carries is the weakest part of film and is what I assume a concession to the joe q public -- to present the point of view of an "Average Joe".

Syriana stands proudly alongside The Insider, The Constant Gardner, Traffic and to a lesser extent, Munich (which wraps its ideology in easy to digest Thriller genre conventions ) in honoring the "New Cinema" of the 70s when filmmakers pushed against the grain, but unlike the 70s, there is no longer an like-minded audience (except for the critics) here in the States. I would predict the film to do a lot better in the rest of the world.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, July 8, 2006
Scott Burton (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Syriana (Widescreen Edition) (DVD)
"Syriana" isn't the convoluted film it's accused of being, but it does require a few things of the viewer. Before you watch, you need to have accepted a few ideas about the oil industry and U.S. foreign policy that Americans have been educated not to accept.

First, you have to accept that the goal of the United States, and for that matter every industrialized nation on Earth, is not the peaceful advancement of civilization for its' peoples. No world power is spared - China and Russia are called out as up-and-coming players in the dirty game. Damon's character points it out clearly - every major treaty & action in the region since World War I has been about strategic access to oil. It is literally a fight to the death to determine which worldly powers control it.

Second, you have to accept that oil actually is "running out". Oil wells don't exactly "run dry", but they can be depleted to the point where it's no longer trivial to continue extraction. Fewer and fewer new oil fields are being found, and the oil industry's focus has made a steady move away from exploration of new fields, and towards technologies to further exploit existing ones. This means that, while the world doesn't neccesarily face a crisis of oil shortage, the easy work is behind us; oil companies face ever more difficult, expensive technical challenges in the future in order to guarantee supply. This is known as "Peak Oil".

Third, you have to accept that money, power and ideology make strange bedfellows. Seedy, corrupt connections like the ones between lawyers, U.S. government officials and the oil industry would easily be dismissible as paranoid fantasy if it weren't for the rich plunder of oil. The Bob Baer character finds himself surrounded by enemies within his own agency, but a friend to a coup plotter. Damon's character allows the promise of radical change in the region to split apart his family. The incongruity starts to make sense when viewed through the lens of Syriana.

And last, you have to accept that in a struggle such as this one, all parties are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to achieve what they see as the right ends.

This film has been lauded as a "wake up call" about America's complicity in the violent regional conflicts surrounding oil-rich nations; I don't think it's that. No smoking gun is revealed, no single event demonized, no accusation is made. You will learn nothing new here if you've glanced at a copy of The Economist or The New York Times in the last 20 years. I don't think the aim here was to "lift the blanket" off of a problem most Americans are already willing to acknowledge exists.

And to call the film "unamerican" is short-sighted as well. Everyone finds a straw man to beat; journalist Amir Tehiri considers it anti-Arab. Capitalists would call it "anti-capitalist fantasy". It's hard to sustain any of these claims, because nothing in the film is really that shocking. Americans have woken up to new charges of corruption, globalism and anti-Arab violence in the papers every single day of 2006. A simple reading of practicallly any newspaper in the U.S. today would indicate massive corruption, illegality and doublespeak on the part of government and industry oil-related or not, that far outstrips any controversial aspect of the film Syriana. If you have to concoct a criticism of Syriana as to its realism, you would have to conclude that the film itself is far too tame.

The criticism most frequently leveled at this movie is that it's convoluted, hard to follow, maybe intentionally confusing. I didn't find that to be the case - in fact, you only need a basic understanding of oil and geopolitics in order to follow the story. I found the large number of characters to be a stumbling point though. Also, some of the story's most critical junctures involving kingmaker Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer's character) are quickly glossed over and left (maybe intentionally) vague. In a traditional film, Whiting would be the villain, and it's unfair I think to leave him so unconnected. One would assume that Whiting is the nexus of powerful forces in the oil industry lobby, the U.S. government and the oil-producing states, but it's all to vague to be certain. We are left to guess at the exact nature of what is, essentially, the hand pulling all of the strings. In a film where every plot device has a clear real-world analog, it's unfair to leave ambiguous such a central point.

"Traffic" shared this problem. Such is the nature of Gaghan's finger-pointing. The weighty bundle of innuendo is often left to hang by a precious thread, unconnected to reality and dangling precipitously.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Film Is Very Thought Provoking, It's Easy To Get Lost Though So It Demands Constant Attention, December 15, 2005
Kaya Savas (Studio City, CA) - See all my reviews
MOVIE: Syriana is another entry in the political thriller, or maybe more like a political drama. It sits in the similar style of The Constant Gardener, which was released earlier this year. The film is filled to the brim with detail and every line of dialogue is meaningful to the plot in some way. Unfortunetly there can be times where so much is going on that it can be hard to follow. The film demands the attention of the audience, but if you have ADD that can be hard in this movie. This movie boasts an ensamble cast, which means that no one actor really stands out at the main character. You can argue that George Clooney is the main character, but then again Alexander Siddig gives a scene stealing performance as the Prince Nasir Al-Subaai. Each character has their own story in this intertwining plot of corruption, blackmail, and back stabbing. The plot centers around two major oil companies forming a merger, what it takes to make a profit and how power is abused to get it. The film has two very thrilling scenes. One is a torture scene that will actually make you cringe, and the beauty of it is that it makes you cringe through the magic of editing. You never actually see anything graphic, but it will make you cringe nontheless due to the fantastic acting. The next scene is actually the climax of the film, and it has a great build up, if you're watching intently it should make you jump out of your seat. Now for the political side. The film is from the new production company, Participant Productions. The company has a goal of producing films that are important reflections of world events, while still making an entertaining film. North Country and Good Night & Good Luck were both released this year under participant. This film tackles the current oil crisis that is going on the in middle east. The film throws around lots of point of views. We see the situation from the government's side, the Arabian's side, and the major oil company's side. Unfortunetly, the film leaves too much for the audience to follow, it ends up being a chore to watch. A good film, not a masterpiece, but a decent sophmore directorial attempt for Stephen Gaghan.

ACTING: The film relies on acting and dialogue, and this film boasts an amazing ensamble cast. George Clooney gained 35 pounds in a month to quickly jump in for the role, and he does a fantastic job. Matt Damon does a great job too. Alexander Siddig gives a great performance too. I also find it strange that his character's name is Nasir in the film, and his character's name in Kingdom Of Heaven earlier this year was also Nasir. Other actors highlighting the amazing cast include Jeffery Wright, Christopher Plummer, Chris Cooper, and Tim Blake Nelson. The acting wasn't great enough to boast acting nods, but it was good enough to carry this complicated plot.

BOTTOM LINE: The title Syriana comes from the latin phrase "Pax Syriana", which is modeled after Pax Romana, and the literal translation is Syrian peace. The film is an insightful, if not overly detailed, look into the world of corruption all for the sake of oil. The film will seem slow and boring for those who decide not to give the film their full attention. This is not a movie where you sit back and let the music and special effects do the work for you. A good film that is able to rebound with a somewhat flawed first 2 acts, is able to provide an interesting resolution.
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185 of 241 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oil Spill, December 2, 2005
MICHAEL ACUNA (Southern California United States) - See all my reviews
As in the stunning "Traffic" of a few years ago, "Syriana" adopts the audacious tact of piecing together many plot strains with the intention of making some major points about the need /desperation and unending thirst for Oil. As in "Traffic" Gaghan sets up a situation in which Oil, not drugs is an obsession, a sickness really...the real stuff of life and he peoples his movie with those who support and thrive on his thesis: the C.I.A, the Arab Nations, the US oil companies. People are victimized, blown-up, tortured, brutalized and even murdered in service of the all-mighty pursuit of black gold.
Writer/Director Stephen Gaghan (writer of "Traffic") has the sense though of making the proceedings global yet often times heart breakingly personal which only makes his film more persuasive, more contemporary, more like real, rather than reel, life.
George Clooney, bloated and bearded and not looking at all like the "Worlds Sexiest Man" plays a C.I.A. agent, Bob Barnes: a work-horse who is sent out on missions as a scapegoat, one who is not expected to succeed but time and time again completes his missions to the utter dismay of his superiors: whereas all of his contemporaries are earning raises and respect, he earns neither and in fact he is abhorred for his expertise: definitely a case of someone who gets the job done his own way and does not follow the party line: a rebel. Why? It's never really explained but it is obvious that Barnes is an outsider: a man more sinned against than sinning. And even with the extra 20 pounds, grey beard and baggy, shapeless clothes, Clooney has never been more effective: he's gruff, he's gross, he's driven but he is nonetheless a good guy...someone who always has the big picture in mind and sees and understands the forest despite the trees.
We, the audience view much of the action and plot of "Syriana" en Medias re: we eavesdrop on many scenes as they are unfolding rather than at their inception: a device that was used to great advantage in "Traffic" and "Gosford Park." This process keeps us off-balance and psychologically on our toes: we pay close attention just to "keep up" and Gaghan, always the consummate storyteller punctuates his films with the rational and irrational stuff that makes us all human. There is also a dark, foreboding, mean-spirited and dangerous side to the story Gaghan is telling here: how do you differentiate the light without the dark? How do you know what is Evil without knowing the Good?
"Syriana" is bravura filmmaking in the best sense: universal yet coming from a personal place. In fact there is a verisimilitude about "Syriana" that is chilling and frightening: is there indeed a wolf pack of rabid Washington honchos pulling and manipulating the strings that control the world's oil supplies? Gaghan definitely has a point-of-view here and if anything his view might be too mature, too ambitious, too prescient for most of us to digest.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Confusing but realistic depiction of politics and oil in the Middle East, December 18, 2005
This is a complex film. It's hard to follow. And at the end I had the feeling that it was too short, which is very unusual for me.

I have no idea what the name of the film is supposed to mean. The situations depicted are supposedly fictional although they are based on some real issues - oil, money, politics, the Middle East crisis, and corruption. There are a lot of characters, many of whom never meet each other, but whose every action effects everything else. George Clooney is one of the stars. He plays a CIA agent. We know he's a paid assassin who is fluent in Farsi and sells bombs. But we're never sure if he's a good guy or a bad guy. And when he, himself is double-crossed and is subjected to torture, we cannot help but feel sorry for him.

Matt Damon's character is also confusing. We're never sure of what his business is but he and his family live a good life in a Middle Eastern country. When he is invited to the home of a Sheik to talk business, his young son is involved in a horrible accident. Somehow, this gives him leverage in his dealings with the Sheik, but his wife now accuses him of selling out.

Then there are the two Middle Eastern princes. At first we dislike them both, but as the film moves along we get a sense of the competition between them. One brother makes a deal with the Americans which will likely be a disaster for his country. The other brother's ideals of long-range planning for the country are dashed. But these plans include a deal with China.

To complicate even more, there are two American oil companies, one of which is owned by Chris Cooper, which are merging in order to buy drilling rights in another Middle Eastern country. But whether there is oil where they will be drilling is questionable. There are a lot of American government investigations going on but the lawyers are all slick and corrupt and none of these investigations every resolve anything.

And then there is the young "guest worker" in the oil-rich country who is pulled into religious fanaticism.


It took me a while to get it but Syriana is SUPPOSED to be confusing. This concept is endemic to the screenplay. Basically the combination of politics and oil in the Middle East is one great big confusing labyrinth. There are no easy answers. In fact, there are no answers at all. Everyone is a bad guy. And everyone is connected to each other in some way. They never realize it though as each one views the world from his own perspective.

When the film was over, I wondered what the plot was about and really thought I had missed something. And then I heard someone seated behind me ask her companion to explain the plot. I understand that professional reviewers were given a written outline of the plot before they reviewed the film. I sure I wish I had had a roadmap like this. But I also really think that it would have narrowed my perspective. The reality of the film is that Middle Eastern politics are so complicated that there is no real understanding and hence, no solution.

I definitely recommend this film. I am sure it will confuse you too. But then, the world is a complex place and there really are no easy answers.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Syriana, December 21, 2005
Michael Zuffa (Racine, WI United States) - See all my reviews
"Syriana" is a complex film about oil, terrorism, the government, and other related issues. It is so intricate, that it really cannot be described in a way to make it clear. There are, however, three main story lines. First, Bob Barnes (Clooney) is a Middle East CIA operative that is let go after he ceases to be helpful. Second, Connex and Killen are two oil companies that are merging. Third, Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (Siddig) is next in line to become Emir of his unnamed country, and believes that his country should not give in to the United States. These story lines, as well as the others, all come together in the end in a satisfying conclusion.

"Syriana" is a thinking person's movie. If you do not pay attention, you will get lost very quickly. But, if you pay attention, "Syriana" is highly satisfying. Structured like "Traffic" and "Crash", "Syriana" is a movie that makes you think. The cast is excellent all around, all providing their piece of the puzzle. Director Stephen Gaghan weaves the tale skillfully, bringing seemingly unrelated stories together for a fantastic finish. "Syriana" is definately not a movie for everyone, but I highly recommend this film.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting movie that comprises several stories at the same time..., February 21, 2007
This review is from: Syriana (Widescreen Edition) (DVD)
"Syriana", directed by Stephen Gaghan, is an engaging film that tackles many different stories at the same time. All of them have something in common, though: the oil industry, and the people that have some kind of relationship with it.

Despite the fact that it is a little difficult to keep track of the diverse stories that "Syriana" comprises, it is well worth the effort, due to the fact that it allows the spectator to understand what is at stake for different people in the oil industry, and how a decision made by one of them affects the rest. What does Bob (George Clooney), a CIA operative, has to do with a poor immigrant who works in an oil field, or with a young reformist prince (Alexander Siddig)? And what do a broker (Matt Damon) and a lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) that don't know each other have to do with all of them? Oil, power, corruption and manipulation are the main subjects in "Syriana". This film is fiction, but some of its elements could well be truth, and that makes you think.

On the whole, I think "Syriana" is a complicated movie, but one that deserves your time and attention. If you don't mind the fact that you must follow several stories at once, and that this film is undeniably serious and doesn't have any kind of comic relief, I think you will enjoy "Syriana". I know I did...

Belen Alcat
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Convoluted Plot Requires Close Attention, June 20, 2006
This review is from: Syriana (Widescreen Edition) (DVD)
Many other reviewers have pointed out, ad nauseam, that this film is confusing, challenging, and difficult. True. But this is intentional. While the viewer is struggling to figure out what the hell is going on, the characters are likewise scratching their heads, trying to figure out what the hell is goin on---with one exception:

The oil executives.

As the film makes clear above all else, the entire world is sinking into the quagmire that the oil companies have built for us.

It's like those bumper stickers: "If you're not completely outraged, you haven't been paying attention." SYRIANA asks you, begs you, to pay attention, to become outraged, to run to your window and scream, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!"

Those who approach this film with apathy probably, with the same apathy, fill up their Hummers with $3 a gallon gas. It's their right, sure, but for those of us who DO care, who ARE paying attention---it's time to get outraged. Watch SYRIANA for starters.
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Syriana (Widescreen Edition)
Syriana (Widescreen Edition) by Stephen Gaghan (DVD - 2007)
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