Syriana (2005)

(In theaters, December 2005) Close the books on 2005 and put this film at the top of the class. Syriana is the kind of film we don’t get often enough: A densely-told geopolitical thriller whose understanding of the world actually seems to be relevant to ours. Resemblances with 2000’s Traffic are not accidental: Oscar-winning scribe Stephen Gaughan here takes on the additional mantle of direction, and the result is a film that places a surprising degree of trust in the viewers’ ability to follow the story. A meaty mix of power, money and weaponry, Syriana studies the web of middle-eastern oil dependency through five interconnected stories, zapping here and there around the globe to show how everything is linked. This isn’t for the easily distracted, the incontinent or the casual “show me a movie” crowd: the plot moves in short sharp vignettes, often beginning and ending in mid-action. The plot has the satisfying quality of a good novel; have a look at the fabulous screenplay (generously made available on-line) for a reading experience not unlike a crackling thriller. What’s more, the film is ably supported by a number of good performances, though it’s George Clooney’s bearded and paunchy “Bob” that leaves the biggest impression. There may not be all that much conventional action here, but it’s more than offset by the sizzling intensity of the film. On the other hand, much like Traffic, this is the kind of film that can’t really be re-watched again with the same impact.

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