238 – Syriana

I’m not an exceptionally dumb person, but sometimes a plot will simply confound me. And if I have trouble following it, then it’s pretty much dead to me. Complicated plots are one thing, because sometimes one can just mentally separate the more important story strands from the seemingly inconsequential, but the ones that just aren’t too clear do me in.

Syriana is one of the latter class. I can see the overarching theme, that Big Oil sometimes does nefarious things to innocent people, things that affect peoples around the globe, but some of the threads that added up to that grand theme were a little tough to keep track of. This made watching Syriana not a terribly enjoyable or rewarding experience. You, as viewer, know you’re supposed to come away with a sense of disgust and dismay, of self-righteous indignation, but I came away simply relieved it was over.

George Clooney plays Bob Barnes, a CIA operative who's been to war zones in Beirut and Tehran. He’s captured and tortured, he’s released, he’s sent back, and so on. Then there is an emir with three sons, one of whom has been proactive and feels he deserves the kingdom when his father departs (shades of King Lear?). And then there’s an energy analyst (Matt Damon) who’s helping one of the sons. Somehow all of these little themes tie in together, but it’s tough to see that during the first half or so of the movie.

Had this been a straightforward spy movie (focusing on Barnes), or even a political thriller (focusing on the emirate and Damon’s character), I think the theme would have been better realized. It’s not a question of identifying bad guys and good guys, because that’s fairly evident; it’s that the movie leaps from setting to setting with little to link the disparate scenes.

Clooney, who packed on the pounds for his role, is fantastic, but he’s not onscreen enough. Damon, on the other hand, is onscreen too often; even at 35, he still looks like a high schooler. Imagine someone from your senior class acting as an energy analyst! He looks like he’s giving an oral book report. It’s not bad acting, it’s bad casting. On the other hand, Amanda Peet, as his wife, is very solid in a small role – another actress might have been much less noticable. And along for the ride is the elegant, yet ancient Christopher Plummer, looking every one of his 86 years.

Hollywood tends to oversex its movies, adding bombs and breasts to boost box office. I hate to say it, but some bombs might have helped considerably here. There’s little action in the movie, although what’s there is pretty good. For a movie that should be steeped in intrigue, it wasn’t very intriguing.

Syriana: **

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