Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

‘Syriana’ is definitely a different kind of film than at least I’m used to seeing.  There’s no guy with black hats or white hats, no particular right or wrong, and there are no characters to act out of any kind of malicious behavior, though some of things these characters do are reprehensible.

We’re asked to keep track of large number of characters involved in a large number of different tasks, all with different agendas.  After a while the scope of the whole thing lost me, but that still didn’t make the film any less entertaining or gripping.  As far as I can tell, it also didn’t take sides, such as oil barons are bad, activist are good, terrorist are bad, agents trying to stop them are good.  Everyone merely seemed focused on whatever the task was at hand, and pursued it.

‘Syriana’ is also movie that apparently doesn’t have a star, though it is stocked with star caliber talent.  George Clooney, who snagged himself an Academy Award, is seasoned CIA field operative Bob Barnes.  So seasoned, in fact, that he can barely function in a normal society that doesn’t involve counter-terrorism, clandestine meetings, remote bombs and torture.  Matt Damon as Bryan Woodman is an analyst who suffers a terrible tragedy, but manages to leverage it into a profitable venture.  Jeffrey Wright as Bennett Holiday is corporate lawyer hired by D.C. string puller Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer) to investigate a shady oil deal.  Eventually, Holiday discovers a little bit too much about the deal, and saving his own skin becomes his new number one priority.  The fourth story line concern Mazhar Munir as Wassim Ahmed Khan, a young Pakistani migrant worker recently laid off due from his work in the oil fields due to the deals being made on the other side of planet.  We witness his transformation from a young man simply looking for a job, to a political martyr. 

All of these divergent stories are tightly intertwined, and it does get confusing at times trying to follow them all and to figure out what they all represent, but the film was so well crafted and acted, and the fact that the main characters didn’t have a complete grasp of the situation themselves made the complexity of the film far more tolerable for than me that it otherwise may have been.

Ultimately, I believe what we’re being told is that what is right isn’t necessarily what is best, and what is just doesn’t necessarily equate into justice.  There are issues going in the world, controlled by just a few men, largely for the pursuit of money and power.  The rest of us are just pawns in their huge chess match.  ‘Syriana’ is film that is challenging to watch to say the least, but if you are up for that challenge, it will be worth your time.

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