A figurative and literal nail-biter.
"I cannot think that espionage can be recommended as a technique for building an impressive civilisation. It's a lout's game." Rebecca West
I don't think we will in our lifetimes see oil as anything less than the most influential commodity in the world. It will remain a fertile subject for world-wide espionage and the greed that drives it. For a film devolving into a convoluted thriller, Stephen Gaghan's Syriana is yet a moody, menacing cautionary tale about volatile geopolitics.
Once I actually figured out most of the intrigues, but not all, I really didn't care as much about them as I cared about whether or not the US and Saudi governments are so deeply partnered with oil companies that nothing can stop their tyranny. George Clooney's Bob Barnes, a stereotypically rumpled, overweight CIA operative cut out by the agency after years of service, represents the moral ambiguity of world trade as he navigates oil and assassination with equal world weariness. His epiphany as good but ultimately failed highlights the impossibility of the little guy's changing the system.
Although the multiple story lines feel like Steven Soderbergh and Gaghan's Traffic, the lines are not as smoothly integrated, even with Barnes as protagonist and Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (Alexander Siddig) anchoring the reform-minded left. However, praise must be heaped on Hollywood for attempting a complicated plot that mirrors the dense underworld of global politics. Syriana is ultimately a figurative and literal nail-biter in which allegiances fade most sadly between parents and children while oil runs through them.
The left turn at the film's conclusion shows where Clooney and Company's heart is, although they've tried to be balanced between left and right throughout. Like Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, the Edward R. Murrow love fest, Syriana is a darkly sobering look at power on a grand scale, power that needs to be contained and directed toward peace, not a piece of the world.