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Syriana  (2005)

Starring: George Clooney, Christopher Plummer, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, Matt Damon, Amanda Peet, Alexander Siddig, Tim Blake Nelson, William Hurt

This Syriana review written by Mark Jeantheau, Grinning Planet.

DVD cover for Syriana Syriana sets out to explain to us how things really are when it comes to oil, The Middle East, and US policy, and to do so in an entertaining manner. It weaves together oil contracts, bribes, and Justice Department investigations; radical Islam, Islamic reformers, and the seamy politics of US dealings with royal families; CIA operations and "expendable personnel"; and, finally, the public illusions that must be maintained to keep Americans within their safe psychological envelope.

The plot centers on a CIA operations officer (Clooney) who is given an assignment that, um, does not go as planned. But this film does not have not a straight-ahead, single-story structure—other characters and threads include a hot-shot financial analyst (Damon) who ends up advising a reformist emir; the machinations of oil companies and their powerful honchos (Cooper and Plummer, among others); and how the right accountant or lawyer (Wright) is essential to making sure any uneven pieces get sewed up properly. The multiple, interwoven plot lines give this movie a more mature feel as compared to a "normal" suspense-thriller about powerful people and dangerous times. (Let's just say the same movie would have played a lot differently if it had starred Steven Segal.)

As described by Clooney in an interview, Syriana was meant to be an "apolitical" movie—one that tries to tell a story and present insights into the motivations of all sides in the struggle. On that score, it does an excellent job. For instance, we get both the rationale for the United States' aggressiveness in ensuring its energy supplies, from getting oil deals by bribing foreign officials to using lethal force to deal with those who are uncooperative. On the other side, we see US through the eyes of Middle East states as it variously supports or undermines the struggle for democratic and civil reform depending on whether it suits our interests, and we see how frustrations in daily life can combine with religious propaganda to instill the notion in a young Muslim that he should blow things up and kill infidels.

Those unfamiliar with the real-world details surrounding oil supplies, the importance of energy to the global economy (particularly the US economy), and the connection of these things to US foreign policy and Islamic terrorism may want to start with simpler fare. Syriana, while well crafted and entertaining, is written and edited in way that requires the viewer to carefully follow many plot threads (and at times fill in some gaps). Those new to talk of petrodollars, peak oil, and plutocracy may find the movie a bit challenging. But for those of us who are watching keenly as modern industrial society begins its slow, deathly descent towards the center of the petroleum whirlpool, Syriana is a must-see.

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Liner notes for Syriana :
Tagline: "Everything is connected."   Categories: Peak Oil, Suspense, Thriller.
Directed by Stephen Gaghan.   Runtime: 126 min


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