Review: Syriana (2005)

Timing makes or breaks a political thriller. As long as a political thriller is relevant to any current issue, then chances are it will be excellent, good or, at the very least, highly entertaining. The best examples are The Manchurian Candidate (1963) and the satire Dr. Strangelove (1964); both relate to the Cold War era, the fear of power and the fear of communism. Syriana falls into this category of great political thrillers because of its relevance to current global issues.

Syriana spans three continents and its overlapping plotlines show the affect that a merger of two Texas oil companies, Connex and Killen (great subtle names), has on each character. Jeffrey Wright plays a Washington lawyer assigned to hash out the details of the merger for the companies bosses,  played by the always brilliant Chris Cooper and Christopher Plummer.

Then there is Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig), who risks assassination when he favors China over the United States in an oil deal. He also risks not becoming the next Emir because of his approval of Western ideals and his willingness to apply some to his own country. Matt Damon plays energy analyst Bryan Woodward who uses the accidental death of his son at the Prince’s home to become an economics advisor for the Prince.

There is the story of Pakistani migrant worker and his father. When they are laid off from their jobs at Connex due to the deal struck between Nasir and the Chinese, the son is driven to terrorism. We watch as he goes through the motions in order to become a terrorist. It is a story that is emotional and hard to watch.

But my favorite character in this movie was Bob Barnes played by George Clooney. Barnes is a CIA operative reaching the end of his days and will soon be placed at a desk job. He is a man struggling with his personal life as well the fact that he has been used by most people. By gaining over 30 pounds to play an unflattering yet hypnotic character, Clooney gives the performance of the lifetime.

This is film that unflinchingly looks current global issues ranging from terrorism to the power and corruption of big companies. As Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote in his review of Syriana, “Clooney says his company will produce more movies like Good Night, and Good Luck and Syriana. Godspeed.”

Updated October 9 2010