An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


                “Syriana” is a seismic shift for Hollywood.  When the dust settles around this extremely confusing (don’t be put off) movie, you are likely to be emotionally exhausted and thoroughly engaged.  We have been dropped into the deliberate confusion and obfuscation of the corporate, political, and intelligence worlds that operate in secrecy.  These modern power centers are fueled by money.  The politicians don’t have it, so the game belongs to those who do.  They pass it forward in a web of intricacies designed by corporate lawyers who share their goals.  “Syriana” tries to peel back layers of real life secrecy with a fictional thriller. 

                George Clooney and director Stephen Gaghan have made a movie that is serious, almost grave, in its determination to explore both the workings of the international oil culture and the lengths men are willing to go to be players.  It takes Gaghan a long time to lay the groundwork, nearly trying our patience, but he pulls it all together toward the end of his movie.  By that time we have walked in the shoes of each character, though not for long enough to earn clarity. 

                Bob Barnes (George Clooney) is a career CIA man who has spent his agency life doing whatever was asked of him without asking questions.  He is a covert field agent, an invisible man who can never discuss his work with anyone.  It’s an “eyes only” world where even the DCI doesn’t want to hear the details.  When a wrong word is said, revelation, betrayal, and torture can follow.  Clooney, beefed up to be credible as an older agent, is extraordinarily good.  He has the worn look of a man who has had to work against his own grain all his life, and as the dimensions of the puzzle of his assignments in the Middle East become clear to him, he takes on the aspect of a beaten man whose core has been tarnished.   

                Christopher Plummer is repulsively perfect as the international corporate manipulator, a power lawyer who knows he has both the money and connections to make the world work for himself and his clients.   “Corruption is why we win.”  Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), an energy consultant, has a latent idealism that brings him into the politics of choosing the oil source’s next Emir.  At home base in Washington, the operating slogan is “In this town you’re innocent until you’re investigated.”  Contemporary echoes bounce off the theater walls.     

                Bare bones:  a questionable merger between an oil giant and an unqualified oil midget.  Who made what happen?   Near the end of the movie, one staggering scene of this beautifully filmed movie elicits a gasp from the audience.  It is a staggering shot of the oil company loading facility in the Persian Gulf in action, and in one overwhelming second we understand the stakes in this world where nothing is ever what it seems to anyone, and each person’s reality is always at risk. 


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