Movie Review
Syriana poster
By Scott Sycamore     Published November 25, 2005
US Release: November 23, 2005

Directed by: Stephen Gaghan
Starring: George Clooney , Matt Damon , Amanda Peet , Chris Cooper

Running Time: 126 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $50,846,000
It tries to con us into thinking that, since the story is "relevant," we should automatically be enthralled with everything thrown in front of our faces.
I think that we've about reached the limit on post-9/11 political diatribes from self-important filmmakers. Nowadays, everybody and their mama seems to want to throw in their two cents about the "hot" topics of war, terrorism, politics, and The System. Of course I approach all this from the cinematic perspective, meaning that I really don't care exactly what a movie is about as long as it is captivating and handled well. Syriana suffers from both behind-the-curve subject matter and a less-than-enthralling presentation.

This movie is basically a cross of Traffic (C+/B-), The Constant Gardener (C) and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (C+). These are "message" movies that ultimately fall short due to their basic emptiness. Syriana is in the same vein and plays as a very static and talky "thriller" that never really succeeds as a piece of entertainment. It tries to con us into thinking that, since the story is "relevant," we should automatically be enthralled with everything thrown in front of our faces. The reality is that the choppy narrative huffs along, washing over us without making any kind of a big splash.

An ensemble feature is what we have here. This is one of those movies with many characters who inhabit several mini-stories that are connected through the total arc of the film. And that's a problem right off the bat: these types of films have to be done very precisely, being literally a narrative juggling act. If you can't do this type of thing splendidly, then it's best to not try. A recent comparison would be this year's Crash (A-), which does everything right that Syriana doesn't: it manages to connect the disparate pieces of the story much more fully, while never failing to keep the audience in-step along the journey. Syriana is content to be sloppier and more boring.

Another problem with this flick is that, like Gardener, I thought I was going to enjoy it. That's a slight bit more disheartening than seeing a lackluster movie with no expectations. From the content, to the actors, to the writer's pedigree, this one had the stamp of legitimacy all over it. But alas, it's nothing more than tired Oscar bait. It seems intended for pseudo-intellectuals rather than a mass audience. Some might call it liberal propaganda, and maybe it is; I'm not really sure. It's too shapeless and stuffy to really drive any political points home. One should be filled with anger and passion after an offering like this, but that's not what happens. Dry as the desert landscapes that it depicts, Syriana stretches itself way too thin.
Scott's Grade: C+
Scott's Overall Grading: 417 graded movies
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'Syriana' Articles
  • Craig's review B
    December 10, 2005    Syriana has a lot of ideas it wants to get across, but the film is also so broad that the inter-workings of the government and big business remain less than clear. The characters still remain engaging, however. -- Craig Younkin
  • Lee's review C+
    November 24, 2005    People just talk and talk as if we're supposed to hang on to every word - and we're just left abandoned, emotionally, as we try to cling to "something." -- Lee Tistaert