Weaving together multiple strands into one big tapestry, Syriana is to the oil business what Traffic was to the drugs trade. The bad news is that it's harder to keep up with, filled with ambiguous characters and talky exchanges that'll leave even the most alert audiences scratching their heads. But the good news is that writer/director Stephen Gaghan has delivered one of the most addictive Hollywood thrillers of the year, with a slick ensemble that includes Matt Damon and an Oscar-nominated George Clooney.
Not-so-gorgeous George (he packed on 35 pounds for the film) stars as Bob Barnes, a veteran CIA agent who comes to question his paymasters' motives. Damon plays an energy analyst who mines a golden job opportunity from personal tragedy, while Jeffrey Wright is a Washington lawyer refereeing a merger between two US oil giants. And then there's Wasim (Mazhar Munir), a fired oil worker who comes under the sway of Islamic fundamentalists.
"REFUSES TO BE DULL"
These storylines interlock and overlap in such dizzying fashion that it's often unclear who's doing what to whom and why. But don't be deterred. Even at its most impenetrable, Syriana refuses to be dull. It walks and talks like a classic conspiracy thriller, palpably pregnant with urgency and dread. As assured with a camera as he is with a keyboard, Gaghan tackles some of today's toughest issues - Middle East politics, corporate ethics, terrorism, torture - with smarts and guts. No heavy-handed moralising or knee-jerk answers, either. You'll come away exhausted, but also exhilarated.