R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Stephen Gaghan
with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Mazhar Munir, Alexander Siddig, Amanda Peet, Christopher Plummer, Chris Cooper, William Hurt, Akbar Kurtha, Sonell Dadral, Tim Blake Nelson, William C Mitchell, Mark Strong, Max Minghella, Robert Foxworth
release US 23.Nov.05, UK 3.Mar.06
05/US Warner 2h06

On a mission: Clooney and passersby

damon wright peet

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Syriana With a structure and tone exactly like his Oscar-winning Traffic script, Gaghan shows an intelligent and stylish eye for directing with this multi-strand look at the oil industry.

Four interlocking stories centre on the merger of two giant oil companies. A CIA operative (Clooney) is trying to stop Arab Prince Nasir (Siddig) from signing oil contracts with the high-bidding Chinese; the US prefers Nasir's more America-friendly younger brother Meshal (Kurtha) as heir to the emirate. An economic analyst (Damon) is advising Nasir on the situation, while in Washington the oil company's lawyer Bennett (Wright) looks for skeletons lurking in any closets. And a young Pakistani Muslim (Munir), who lost his job due to the merger, is being groomed as a terrorist.

The four strands examine just about every side of the issue. The overall statement is that corruption makes the world go around isn't terribly revolutionary, even as Gaghan digs into supposedly respectable businesses and governments. But seeing it on the screen like this, in such an off-handed, almost documentary style is quite unsettling. The actors are equally raw and natural. Wright is the standout, while Peet shines in the thankless female role as Damon's wife.

Gaghan's script wisely sticks to the human story as things twist and turn toward a series of explosive climaxes. Keeping everyone and everything straight is quite a challenge, although he gives us plenty of help. This smart, insinuating approach rewards sharp-eyed viewers with all sorts of details, layers of character interaction and powerful human emotion.

This is gritty, gripping, in-your-face filmmaking that dares to confront Western commercial and government systems over their collusion to take as much money out of the rest of the world as they can, all in the name of "development" and "democracy", when those are certainly not the operative words. The most striking thing about this film is the way it boldly strips away the veneer of our civilisation and reveals us as the greedy villains we are. This isn't anything new, but it does drive home the point that the horror of suicide terrorism isn't such a surprising result.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 5.Dec.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Syriana Donna Carter, Wisconsin: "Showing different perspectives on the manipulation and pursuit of control of oil in the middle east - it was rather plodding and not very cohesive at first, then became more interesting, but at the end I was still left with a feeling of 'and the point is?' But, perhaps that was the point. I noticed I wasn't the only one in the theater that felt left in mid-air when the credits began to roll." (11.Dec.05)
2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall