Monday, December 12, 2005

Overly Ambitious and Fatally Flawed

The road to making a bad movie is paved with good intentions. Take Syriana, for example. Filmmaker Stephen Gaghan, who also wrote the screenplay for Traffic, obviously wanted to show how financial greed by big oil companies corrupts U.S. actions in the Middle East – a timely idea and one certainly not difficult to understand. But by presenting four major plot lines, each played out in alternating short snippets, and introducing more characters than necessary, Mr. Gaghan fails to involve the viewer in a meaningful way. His story becomes almost too complicated to comprehend, and I lost interest in it after about 20 minutes, despite a couple of fine performances by George Clooney and Matt Damon who, however, receive only limited screen time.

At the heart of the matter is a struggle between a Good Prince and a Bad Prince. Clooney portrays a CIA operative involved in a covert assassination attempt against an idealistic Middle East prince who plans to institute democratic reforms in his country if he becomes Emir instead of his brother. The U.S. prefers the brother because he will continue to buy our military products and support our policies. Damon is an eager financial advisor to the idealistic prince.

The other storylines include a young Pakistani who falls in with a radical Muslim group and a U.S. lawyer assigned to investigate a questionable oil company merger.

Although billed as a political thriller, Syriana lacks the thrills and suspense promised in its impressive previews. It also fails to include exciting action scenes, in-depth character development or visual continuity. A harrowing torture scene emerges as the one unforgettable moment of this disappointing film, which features the most unsatisfactory ending of the year.


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