When “Syriana” was first released in 2005, it got a lot of attention because George Clooney had put on weight and grown a scraggly beard to play a worn-down CIA operative, and looked very much not like an international superstar actor. As a result, it did not get as much attention as it deserved, and believe me, it does deserve it.
The plot is about oil, and the maneuvering between oil companies, governments, refugees and terrorists and how all are connected and affected by the West’s thirst for the stuff. It’s not a straight moralistic goodies/baddies story, and if anything, the convoluted plot is almost impossible to follow, but that is almost the appeal. It’s like “Three Days of the Condor” or another of those 1970s political thrillers that tries to say something big whilst it entertains. Very much an “impressionist” type of movie in that it only works if you look at the whole from a distance rather than focus on the different plot strands. What is “Syriana” trying to say? Maybe that the West’s reliance on oil is poisoning everyone, including the West itself?
And don’t get me started on the masterclass cast: Clooney, Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, Alexander Siddig, Robert Foxworth, Mark Strong, many in tiny roles that show how a great actor works with what he has. The one flaw in the movie is the lack of a really meaty female role, but then, given that it is set in the Middle East, perhaps that was unavoidable. There is also a wealth of Arabic speaking actors giving as good as they get.
A wonderful example of how politics can be done justice in a dramatic way. It’s slow, and leaves you with questions and thoughts, but don’t miss it.