Syriana, which will stir and incite audiences, is important and galvanizing. Still, it feels a bit like bumper-to-bumper Traffic, and at the end of the day, how hard do you really want to work for a movie?
Will it take a Hollywood production to alert the masses about the current oil crisis facing the world, which leaves no person unaffected? Does Syriana have the makings to be such a wide-reaching film? Well, probably not, but it does make a noble stab at it. Much of the way through, Syriana has the feel of a documentary, although it ultimately falls into the pattern of the popular interwoven narratives that are so popular these days. Among the interwoven: A beleaguered CIA agent (George Clooney); a wary and inquisitive Washington lawyer (Jeffrey Wright); an opportunistic energy analyst (Matt Damon) and his wife (Amanda Peet) who have just lost their young son; and a Persian Gulf prince (Alexander Siddig) who helps China in an oil deal, thus antagonizing the U.S.
The cast assembled here includes some of this era's finest actors. That no single actor steals the show is mostly a testament to on-screen time split justly. Clooney is the big story here, and he should be: Rare is the sex symbol superstar of his enormity who dares to don a gut and a beard, as he does here. With his trademark physical attributes obscured, Clooney's acting is allowed to shine, and his character's tension is palpable. As for Wright, the quintessential chameleon of an actor, his performance is as flawless and brilliant as always. Damon provides a reliable turn, but it's onscreen wife Peet who adds the truly raw emotion that the film lacks overall. Rounding out the ensemble are two under-appreciated stalwarts: Chris Cooper, nailing the role of a shrewd oilman, and Christopher Plummer, perfectly cast as the head of a law firm.
Stephen Gaghan has displayed his writing chops in the past-most famously in 2000's Traffic, for which he won an Oscar-and he certainly has a solid mentor behind him in (executive producer) Steven Soderbergh. After making his directorial debut with the 2002 flop thriller Abandon, he finds far better luck with this star-studded, politically charged film, having traveled the world to gain insight into Robert Baer's book which serves as source material. Unfortunately, Gaghan's stirring documentary/handheld-cam filmmaking is contradicted by the overall convoluted feel of the movie, which comes to a too-neat conclusion that leaves several characters hanging. Although Gaghan has a bold and daring take on a topical problem, there's a reason a topic like this, with so many disparate lives and ideas, is not often tackled on the big screen: film is just not a vast enough medium.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.