InsidePulse DVD Review – Syriana


Directed by
Stephen Gaghan

Kayvan Novak …. Arash
George Clooney …. Bob Barnes
Amr Waked …. Mohammed Sheik Agiza
Christopher Plummer …. Dean Whiting
Jeffrey Wright …. Bennett Holiday
Chris Cooper …. Jimmy Pope
Robert Foxworth …. Tommy Barton
Nicky Henson …. Sydney Hewitt
Nicholas Art …. Riley Woodman
Matt Damon …. Bryan Woodman
Amanda Peet …. Julie Woodman
Steven Hinkle …. Max Woodman
Daisy Tormé …. Rebecca
Peter Gerety …. Leland “Lee” Janus
Richard Lintern …. Bryan’s Boss
Jocelyn Quivrin …. Vincent
Mazhar Munir …. Wasim Khan
Shahid Ahmed …. Saleem Ahmed Khan
Bikram Singh Bhamra …. Pakistani Translator
Roger Yuan …. Chinese Engineer
Jayne Atkinson …. Division Chief
Thomas McCarthy …. Fred Franks (as Tom McCarthy)
Jamey Sheridan …. Terry
Randall Boffman …. Distinguished Gentleman #1
Tony French …. Distinguished Gentleman #2
Max Minghella …. Robby Barnes
Katie Foster …. Nervous Daughter
Nadim Sawalha …. Emir Hamed Al-Subaai
Alexander Siddig …. Prince Nasir Al-Subaai
Ozzie Yue …. Chinese Oil Executive
Akbar Kurtha …. Prince Meshal Al-Subaai
Sonnell Dadral …. Farooq (as Sonell Dadral)
Jon Lee Anderson …. Himself
Othman Bin Hendi …. Arab Businessman
Bashar Atiyat …. Nasir’s Aide (as Bashar H. Atiyat)
Ali Al Amine …. Older Kid at Pool
William Charles Mitchell …. Bennett Holiday Sr. (as William C. Mitchell)
Tim Blake Nelson …. Danny Dalton

The Movie:

Boy, let’s face it; love him or hate him, 2005 was great for George Clooney. He may not have starred in any blockbusters, but the former E.R. actor was instrumental in two of the most important films of last year. Now while I’m sure Clooney enjoyed being raised to the level of major Hollywood director and writer with Good Night and Good Luck, I think even more important was his portrayal of CIA Agent Bob Barnes in Syriana.

While Good Night and Good Luck was an expertly made film with wonderful subtext, Syriana lets all of its intentions hang out in the open. It’s easy to say the film only deals with corruption within the Oil business, but it’s much more than that. The picture takes a hard look at huge issues within the subject such as government control, policy, along with espionage and subterfuge that all concern the Big Oil, but Syriana also stops to look at how these issues affect families and rip them apart. There really aren’t bad guys in this movie, just people trying to survive any way they know how in a world where oil is running out.

For those not ready for it, the film is pretty overwhelming at first. Characters are not so much introduced as they’re thrown at you right and left. Little introduction is given and the next thing you know, you’re on to the next storyline in this globetrotting piece. We’re given a glimpse into the worlds of a CIA Agent, a financial advisor in Switzerland, an Emir from the Middle East, Oil Executives, black-market terrorists and more.

We’re anchored by the story of Clooney’s Barnes, an aging CIA Agent who would be able to get out danger and behind a desk if he could just keep the truth to himself. Barnes does his best work out in the field, but his disillusionment is hurting his reputation. Redemption comes in the form of a mission to take out a man named Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (Alexander Siddig), a potential Middle East Oil-baron who could potentially cause trouble for the United States.

The thing is, unlike a rudimentary Spy film, Prince Nasir is not a megalomaniac, but a man desperately trying to reform his country. He wants bidding for his oil to be fair, instead of bowing to world powers for favors. He wants real reform in the region, but this could possibly go against American interests.

From here the story branches off again to Matt Damon’s Bryan Woodman, a financial advisor for a firm in Geneva trying to help Prince Nasir Al-Subaai to gain stability in the Middle East. Damon does some of his best work here as a man trying to decide whether to an important man on the Prince’s crusade or simply a father to his children and husband to his wife (Amanda Peet). Does he stay with this visionary and let his family crumble while he’s away?

These are just three of the storylines running throughout this picture. Others include the investigation of two Oil companies and the political backers that may have to go down to facilitate a merger. Another has a father and son, falling apart due to ambition and substance abuse. Another simply shows the destinies of two peaceful young men who get pulled down into the world of Islamic fundamentalism. As I had said before there are no villains, just people doing their best to survive.

Syriana was a film that was sorely overlooked during awards season this year. Stephen Gaghan’s expert direction and screenplay are simply outstanding. To be able to juggle this many storylines as well as make each and every character interesting is a Herculean feat pulled off brilliantly by the film maker. Though each storyline is connected, it never feels forced or contrived. Each character is just a piece of a much larger puzzle, and with every moment Gaghan’s keeps adding more and more info.

The acting is uniformly dazzling, and I do mean everybody, from Alexander Siddig to Christopher Plummer. I especially love Tim Blake Nelson’s monlogue about “corruption”, and Jeffery Wright’s soft spoken corporate lawyer, but its really Clooney and Damon that steal the show. Clooney is almost unrecognizable as Bob Barnes. Gaining thirty pounds and growing a bushy beard, this is definitely not the same man we saw play Danny Ocean or Bruce Wayne. This is a fully rounded character, with deep emotional pain that you can see on his face in every frame. This is a man that has loved his country devoutly, but has to re-examine his life when he is turned on. Clooney’s Oscar win for this role was probably my favorite of all the awards that night, and one I felt that was richly deserved.

Damon sadly is overshadowed by his Ocean’s alum but still pulls off a great role. The actor has got some tremendous monologues in the film and each one comes off with more intensity. This is the Damon that we were promised in Good Will Hunting and here’s hoping he’s able to bring this type of passion to his work again soon.

For me, Syriana is without a doubt one of the best films that came out last year and hopefully it will find a bigger audience on DVD. Honestly, unless you’re watching it intently it’s difficult to take it all in, but the film is a gold mine of film making for the patient viewing. I remember seeing it in the theater and standing in awe as it washed over me, and watching it at home for the second time was the same experience.

Score: 10/10

The DVD:

The Video

The movie looks great on DVD. Robert Elswit’s cinematography bristles with energy in an almost documentary style, as if this were all really happening in front of you. This is highlighted by a beautiful print on this disc. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1.

The Audio

I have to admit the sound mix on this disc is a little disappointing. Often times the dialogue was very low, so when something bombastic happened, it was really loud because I’d had to turn up my TV. The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailers.

Make a Change, Make a Difference – This is a 15 minute Featurette on the making of the film and its message. This features quite a few comments and interviews by the film’s cast and crew talking about how important this film is and its many different messages. It’s nice to see how many actors wanted to be involved in this film simply because they thought it was important instead of a big paycheck.

Conversation with George Clooney – This goes about 9-10 minutes and goes over Clooney’s involvement with the picture. You can really tell this is a personal project for the actor that really comes close to his heart, which makes you want to root for him even more.

Deleted Scenes – There are three deleted scenes on the disc, which altogether run about 5-6 minutes. Two of the three are really good and feature Greta Scacchi as Bob Barnes’ wife.

Theatrical Trailers – We get three trailers on the disc for Lady in the Water, The New World and Syriana. I’m a big fan of trailers on DVD’s and especially when it has the one for the movie you’re watching on it. You hear me Sony?

Score: 4/10

InsidePulse’s Ratings for Syriana
(OUT OF 10)