Review: Syriana

Syriana is a political thriller about securing American oil interests in the Middle East. It doesn't claim to be a true story (especially since it takes place in a fictitious country) but it does have elements that will be familiar to anyone paying attention to the news in the last 30 years.

Starring George Clooney as a CIA operative and with a cast that includes Christopher Plummer, Matt Damon, Amanda Peet, Chris Cooper, and a number of other faces you'll recognize, the film has enough acting talent to set expectations high.

And as high as they are, this film delivers. Beautifully directed and produced, with a thankful departure from the current tendency to quick-cut every scene or to use unstabilized handheld cameras for that Blair Witch effect, the film provides a well-paced and complex story about a number of characters of varying scruples.

The main characters in the film, played by Clooney, Damon, and Alexander Seddig (Dr. Beshir from Star Trek:Deep Space Nine), are all thoughtful people who are trying to serve some higher end. Each has his own motivations and you may not agree that they are all morally equal, but they are developed in the film such that you feel you understand and can sympathize with each of them. This is not to say that there aren't one-dimensional characters in the film, but even many of them seem to have motivations for which there is some sympathy in the audience. Even if you don't like the characters and want to scream out that they're just wrong, you have some idea where they're coming from.

I also found the soundtrack interesting mostly for it's subtlety. There are many scenes accompanied by absolute silence, leaving the viewer to their own interpretation of events and judgement. Although strongly different from many of the feed-you-your-correct-views films that we've been familiar with as of late (Fahrenheit 9/11 comes to mind), it's refreshing to have a film covering a complex subject with a definite eye towards pointing out problems but without simple answers and a clear political rallying cry.

With all of this said, it's fair to warn that this film may test the patience of some, both with it's views and with some acute violence. For the former, you're going to have to be open to the idea that the consequences of actions may not be as simple as people think they are and for the latter, you'll want to look away at some points, especially during a torture scene that will become obvious.

All told, I'd suggest this as an excellent film and another sign that Mr. Clooney needs to be watched closely. After all, he was Executive Producer on this film and wrote and directed Good Night, and Good Luck, and these are real achievements.