This places it into the genre of hyperlink cinema, where storylines and characters interact subtly and events in one storyline have a distinct effect on other story lines, but the characters are not aware of this fully. Gaghans Syriana is similar in treatment to the documentary feel of Steven Soderberghs Traffic, which was written by Gaghan. While the latter had drug trade exposure as its main theme, both used interlocking stories to take the viewer on a spell-binding ride, which keeps throwing curves till the very end. The ensemble films central theme is petroleum politics and the widespread influence of the oil industry.
Key plotlines focus on the political, economic, legal and social ramifications of this industry on CIA agent Bob Barnes (George Clooney) who is highly experienced in the Middle East but his stellar reputation is tainted by his failure in a mission involving missiles in Beirut, an energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) who is a friend of the Persian Gulf Prince Nasir Al-Subaai but suffers owing to this association, a lawyer in Washington Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) who is investigating the merger of two oil companies and Wasim Khan (Mazhar Munir), a Pakistani immigrant working for an oil company in an Arab country, which later fires him.
The acting is top-notch and there is not a trace of bad acting in this movie. Clooney plays a man who has been exhausted by the CIAs war on Middle East terrorism, who on one hand is trying hard to get his son through college, and on the other has the power to order the assassination of the Persian Gulf Price because he chose China over the U. S. in an oil transaction. His acting has a hypnotic quality to it which stays with the viewer even after the final credits are rolled. Matt Damon also gives a brilliant performance who, much to his wifes horror, is perfectly willing to exploit the accidental death of his son in the Princes house for his own benefit.
Tim Blake Nelson who plays Danny Dalton, the right-hand man of the executive at one of the oil companies involved in the merger, must also be mentioned for his amazing timing in the scene where he extols the safe and warm qualities of corruption. Syriana falls short of being a great movie, and ranks somewhere above average on the quality scale. The screen play is gripping, the dialogue sharp and the debates all those which gained relevance in the post 9/11 environment and stay so till now. The movie succeeds at telling its viewers how they should stop trying to understand the oil industry, because the real story is so complex it might not even be properly grasped by oil company executives, Arab monarchy, CIA agents or energy brokers anywhere in the world. The screenplay and direction both reflect a certain intelligence and the quality of research is impeccable.
There are a number of individual scenes which contain an almost fierce power and energy in them, but they dont thread together the movie as a whole. The problem I faced with Syriana was that while I was spellbound throughout the duration of the movie, the various intermingled storylines confused me and I felt this happen more so because the characters in the movie itself are confused by the events around them and do not know exactly what kind of situations theyre involved in. The confusion of characters might have been written in the script, but in this particular case, it got passed on to the audience as well, which was in most probability, not the intention of the director.
Another issue with the multifaceted stories were that some characters and plotlines were more developed and interesting, such as those of Matt Damon and George Clooney, while others, such as Jeffery Wrights could not impress, even with Wrights brilliant potential, simply because he just got about twenty minutes of screentime. Hence, while parts of the movie were good, they did not add up to a rewarding whole. Syriana is similar to Traffic in its aesthetic appeal: it has not been shot in a studio, rather to ensure the believability of the movie, production took place all around the globe to capture the true essence of the stunning landscapes and inimitable societies it would be depicting.
The entire movie has been shot using a pair of hand-held cameras, which give the film its unique quasi-documentary feel and helps in providing context for some of the issues discussed in the movie. The movie is worth the two hours spent watching it, however, one ends up feeling that it was too ambitious a project where the execution could not deliver all that it was expected to. Nevertheless, Gaghans effort is commendable and the narrative of the oil industry is definitely eye-opening. His approach of not explaining everything and leaving the viewer to decide the right and wrong of it makes this movie a tough nut: gripping, complex, confusing and yet fascinating till the end.