out of Five
Running time: 128
Gripping, complex and thoughtful thriller that harks back to the classic political thrillers of the 1970s.
What’s it all about?
Written and directed by Stephen Gaghan (Oscar-winning screenwriter of Traffic) Syriana takes its name from a Washington term that refers to a hypothetical reshaping of the Middle East. The film follows multiple storylines and several different characters, each of whom is somehow connected to the oil industry.
Principal players include George Clooney as veteran CIA agent Bob Barnes, who comes to question his role in the assignments he has blindly carried out; Matt Damon as family man Bryan Woodman, who becomes a business advisor to the politically aware Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig) after a family tragedy; and Jeffrey Wright as Bennett Holiday, an ambitious Washington lawyer asked to investigate the legitimacy of a merger between two powerful U.S oil companies.
Gaghan has assembled a terrific ensemble cast and he’s rewarded by note-perfect performances throughout. An Oscar –nominated Clooney is the stand out. Not only is he practically unrecognisable (he gained 30 pounds for the role and grew a huge salt-and-pepper beard) but his appearance adds a shocking level of realism and vulnerability at a certain point in the film.
Damon is equally impressive, in the sort of clean-cut role that might have gone to Robert Redford 30 years ago. There’s also superb support from Alexander Siding and Britain’s own Mark Strong in a chilling cameo.
In addition, Robert Elswit’s exceptional cinematography gives the film a distinctive level of authenticity, something that’s highlighted by some superb location work. Similarly, Gaghan proves himself more than capable of as a thriller director, orchestrating a couple of gripping suspense sequences that are as tense as anything in Munich.
Like Traffic, Syriana is a complex, thought-provoking, multi-layered drama that rewards close attention. It also fulfils all the key criteria of a decent political thriller – it’ll make you angry, it’ll make you think and it’ll scare the hell out of you. Highly recommended.