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Laramie Movie Scope: Syriana

Oil toil and trouble

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 25, 2005 -- Suicide bombers, crooked politicians, assassinations, bribery and corruption, welcome to the world of global oil politics. Never have so few profited so much at the expense of so many. This movie about ruthless global political machinations spans the globe with players in the United States, the Middle East and in Asia. The multifaceted story tries to cover too many bases at once and loses its way from time to time, but it is a very bold and ambitious film.

The complex story structure has several plot lines running in parallel, or nearly so, as we follow a CIA agent (played by George Clooney of “Good Night and Good Luck”), an energy investment strategist (Matt Damon of “The Bourne Supremacy”), the son of a powerful Middle Eastern leader who is about to inherit the leadership of a country, and a huge oil fortune (Alexander Siddig of “Kingdom of Heaven”), a lawyer (Jeffrey Wright of “Broken Flowers”) who is forced to find a fall guy in order to win government approval of a big oil company merger, and two oil company workers (Mazhar Munir and Sonnell Dadral) who lose their jobs and all hope for the future. The two workers later fall under the spell of an Islamic radical.

The film takes us inside oil politics and intrigue where the stakes are as high as the sky. The story probably would have worked better had it not tried to keep so many balls in the air at the same time in this complicated juggling act. The story is spread out over so much territory and so many people that it is thin. We never spend enough time with any of the characters to build up much empathy with them. This approach is in contrast with that of a superior film, “The Constant Gardener,” where a similar tale of international conspiracy is told through the emotional journey of one man. Syriana falls short because it lacks a strong personal conduit to the narrative.

The story is filled with back-stabbing double-dealing and other skullduggery. Everyone in the movie, it seems, is being used by someone else in some complicated, underhanded scheme. It includes some shocking scenes of violence and torture. The film features good cinematography, production design and good acting by all. The top-notch cast includes Christopher Plummer, Amanda Peet, Chris Cooper and Tim Blake Nelson, in addition to those already mentioned above. This film looks great and it has top-notch production values. It falls short of its high goals, but achieves much more than less ambitious films. It rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2005 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)