Since missing it in the theater, I have been anxious to see Syriana (trailer). Now that it has been released on DVD I had the chance. For those that want to learn more about the plot, there are some detailed reviews available and the official site contains a synopsis. But, the shortest explanation is that Syriana tells 4 loosely related stories of people involed in oil and the Middle East.
In the first, Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) is a Geneva-based energy trader seeking to secure the Syrianan Royal Family as clients. The Royal Family, meanwhile, is in transition. The Emir is stepping down and will deicide to hand his kingdom to the well-educated, progressive Prince Nassir (Alexander Siddig) who has just signed a deal with the Chinese or the younger Prince Meshal who may be more amenable to American interests.
In the second sub-plot, Connex (an American oil conglomerate) is trying to obtain regulatory approval for its purchase of Killen, a smaller Texas oil company that has just secured drilling rights in Kazakhstan. Aiding their effort is the high priced law firm Sloan Whiting, advisors to oil men everywhere. And, standing in their way is the Department of Justice and their concerns that Killen violated the US Corrupt Practices Act. Connex is desperate to secure a steady crude supply since they were displaced by Prince Nassir, a decision that Dean Whiting (Christopher Plumber) himself is seeking to undo.
In the third storyline we meet Bob Barnes (George Clooney in an Oscar-winning performance), a deep cover CIA agent that has been operating in the Middle East for more that 20 years. First a soldier in the Cold War and now a soldier in the Great War on Terror, Barnes willingness to serve his masters in Washington is unwavering. His Washington masters turn out to be less loyal to their field agents, however.
Finally, in the last sub-plot we meet Wasir and Saleem Khan and other Pakistani migrant workers manning the drilling and refining stations of Syriana. Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (Traffic) weaves these together in a complex and compelling drama about the action necessary at the international level to secure the supply of oil. The result is both entertaining and thought provoking.
Two notes. First, the story is complex. There are dozens of characters, and much as Bob Barnes is trying to discover the real agenda by piecing information together, the viewer is left to discover the real plot by digesting snippets of conversation that always seem to be happening in the background. Second, there is one very graphic torture seen mid-way through the film. The squeamish will want to cover their eyes.