Considering that oil company profits are at record highs, and that pumping a gallon of petrol into your gas guzzler involves a complicated array of such corporations, the U.S. and other governments, and most likely any number of shady operatives and deals, it only makes sense that a film about all of that would be just as complicated and complex.
Like the intricate story he penned for "Traffic," writer/director Stephen Gaghan delivers a multi-layered tale in "Syriana," a far more polished, engaging and ambitious sophomore follow-up to his directorial debut of "Abandon" back in 2002.
Adapted from a book by Robert Baer, the film is a compelling look at fictitious oil companies, political wrangling and covert government doings, as well as the aftereffects of their actions, all involving who gets to make a buck off Earth's crude.
With many viewers facing rising energy costs, not to mention continued unrest in the Middle East, the film should certainly benefit from being timely. And those looking for a tale of complex maneuverings and corruption as presented via a dramatic thriller could do far worse than what this film offers.
The performances are all good (and some are terrific), the direction is taut in individual scenes and sequences, and the various stories are intriguing and/or engaging. But the problem is that there are just too many individual plotlines and characters. While it's somewhat fun trying to figure out how they're all going to intersect, collide or at least influence the others in one way or another (as we instinctually know they must), they all end up feeling shortchanged to some degree.
Yes, I know, I can't believe I'm saying it, but the film needs to be longer than its just over two-hour runtime. Either that, or some of the individual threads should have been dropped or more tightly woven into one of the other stories, thus allowing them and their characters more time to breathe, let alone develop.
As it stands, once you get into one story - such as George Clooney playing a potential loose cannon of a covert CIA assassin or Alexander Siddig embodying a prince who wants to make his country more progressive at the potential risk of drawing the wrath not only of the U.S. but also that of his own people and family - Gaghan has to switch to one of the many other stories so that they're not left out.
While there's that collective momentum of knowing all of the stories will eventually come together in some fashion, each story's individual sense of building impetus never feels like it's taken to its fullest possible degree.
Even so, you have to admire a film that's venturesome in terms of painting most everyone and everything in varying shades of grey. Accordingly, we can see the reasons behind the villains' actions - such as that involving terrorist activities stemming from the ramifications of others' decisions - while the "good guys" aren't necessarily always good or even right.
And with all of those stories and people, you certainly won't ever be bored, although you may find yourself lost and/or confused at times in regards to who's doing what to whom and why, especially involving some of the secondary and minor characters.
Good, but not as brilliant as its posturing seems to otherwise imply, the film either needs to extend its running time or jettison some of the material so that the better moments are allowed to flourish and develop the way they want and need to.