Stephen Gaghan, writer of the great “Traffic”, this time writes and directs “Syriana”. This is a fascinating look at the business of oil from many different perspectives. But what I think he really achieves here is something I think a lot of people will complain about. This movie does not follow a coherent plot, nor does it offer easy solutions or answers. There is no bigger picture, and honestly I think that is the way it should be. All the major characters in this movie don’t even get the bigger picture.
To describe the plot would take a long, long time. The story takes us from the board rooms where major corporations are trying to broker deals for more oil, to the oil fields themselves. The best I can do is offer up a few of the characters and their motivations.
George Clooney plays a CIA agent who begins to uncover the disturbing truth about the work he has devoted his career to. Matt Damon plays an oil broker who in the face of a family tragedy, finds redemption in his partnership with one of the princes of Saudi Arabia. This prince is played by Alexander Siddig, who wants nothing more than to do good for is country. Jeffrey Wright plays a corporate lawyer who is on both sides of the fence during a major corporate merger. The young Mazhar Munir plays a mixed up Pakistani teenager who falls prey to a charismatic terrorist recruiter. Those are the ones that stood out the most for me. The rest of the cast is filled out nicely with Chris Cooper, Christopher Plummer, Amanda Peet, Tim Blake Nelson and William Hurt.
But the real achievement is by Stephen Gaghan. He won an academy award for writing “Traffic” and should be nominated again for this film. He manages to give all the roles here weight and importance to the story. He also manages to organize everyone’s contribution in a clear and concise way. At no point was I confused.
If there is a message to be taken from this movie it is that the oil business is too big and too much a labyrinth to break it down and isolate certain problems. It is also run by a whole lot of bad people who are willing to do a lot of bad things to each other in service of the all mighty dollar.