07 December 2005

Syriana (Participant/Warner Bros 2005)

There are a lot of jobs that you couldn't pay me to do -- anything involving international intrigue is high on the list. Syriana plays out not only in the oil-rich countries of the Middle-East, but also in the powerful cities of Washington, DC and Geneva, Switzerland.

Syriana is taut and finely woven. It is a thriller, a mystery, and something more. The official website describes it as "a political thriller that unfolds against the intrigues and corruption of the global oil industry." Regardless of how it is described, Syriana makes Michael Moore's revelations look like crass infomercials. It is raw and unflinching and has an undeniable impact on the viewers. The packed house with whom I viewed the film was eerily silent and still for the first few screens of credits -- it's that intense.

Like Traffic, the last award-winning film from screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, Syriana relies on handicam (a.k.a. queasycam or wobblycam) filming for a large number of shots. While this technique does enhance the tension and urgency, it is really easily abused and it was the weakest aspect of this film. The script, based on the memoirs of ex-CIA agent Robert Baer, is solid and its direction, inspired. Most of the performances are top-notch. George Clooney burns with energy as CIA agent Bob Barnes, but the real standout is Alexander Siddig as Prince Nasir, the reform-minded heir to the Emir. There's already "Oscar® Buzz" making the rounds and you can add me to the list of Siddig's supporters.

Syriana doesn't ask the audience to stop driving their cars or boycott big oil companies but it does pose some bigger questions. It leaves them unanswered, in part because there are no answers.


Buy the memoir See No Evil by Robert Baer.
Buy the soundtrack for Syriana.
Buy Traffic on DVD.


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