The world of politically charged films has certainly grown in the past few years. Films like Farhenheit 911 have seen big success, while other films like Rupert Murdoch’s OutFoxed have seen more of a critical success. Both of these films had extreme media attention, one obviously more than the other, prior and after their releases. Both asked questions and demanded answers to topics and issues we, as people, wondered about but never really asked about as a simple person can’t really enact a high success…rate in terms of results. However, if you have a name like Michael Moore or Rupert Murdoch attached to the bill, people will probably pay attention. A similar note is given to the recent political thriller Syriana starring George Clooney. Even though Syriana had actors like Matt Damon and George Clooney attached to the bill, would this be enough to make the film’s questions seem important enough to make an impact?
Syriana, to sum up the film in three words, is about oil and money. The film begins with one of the Gulf States agreeing to supply the up and coming China with some of its oil. Texas based company Connex, views this deal as a huge defeat. At the exact same time as this deal is happening with Connex, another company, Killen, has signed a deal to drill for oil in Kazakhstan. Connex, obviously, announces an immediate merger with Killen, thus giving them the oil. Wait one second. This sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it? Naturally the Justice Department intervenes and the movie starts to accelerate.
One of the strongest points about Syriana are the simple characters and issues that the film presents. We meet many a character, so many that if I were to list every major character, this review would be quite long. But to list a few of the major characters, the character of Robert Barnes (George Clooney), a veteran CIA field agent, is excellent and simple. The character of Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon, a trader based in Geneva, is one of the more intriguing characters. Woodman is invited to a party at a gorgeous Spanish villa owned by Nasir and Meshal, the sons of a Gulf oil Sheik. The Shiek decides to give Woodman a $100 Million Dollar Contract results in a few scenes of absolutely stunning acting and impressive dialogue between the two.
Reading a few reviews of this film, I was surprised to find that many found the film to be overly complicated. I will agree that the film is not the easiest film to follow, but the basic plot is something that is, even though we don’t fully know, probably going on right in front of our eyes. Syriana is not necessarily a film that asks to be understood from minute one to minute 126, but Syriana is more of a film that asks us to follow the basic plot of the film and wonder what is going on. The real goal of director Stephen Gaghan (writer of Traffic and director of Rules of Engagement) is to explain the basic plots of the oil business. The film ends and Gaghan wants us to start looking into this demanding that we get an explanation (especially now with the recent higher gasoline prices).
Syriana uses characters played by actors a majority of us are familiar with for a purpose. If any of us have followed the news, it’s clearly known that Clooney and Damon are politically charged actors, both who make films that try to have that political message (Clooney more so than Damon especially with Good Night and Good Luck). As a whole though, Syriana is a highly fascinating film with many little stories that seem, if we connect all the dots, to come together, eventually, to make a whole story. While the film wants to try to take simple sides to this oil issue, it would rather look at both sides of the story and ask us to pick the side. Syriana, as it has been said before, is a fascinating film that I’m sure anyone can enjoy if they let their own mind open up to the ideas presented.
Syriana is presented in an anamorphic Widescreen Aspect Ratio of 2:35:1 that looked fine, but seemed to lack that spark and vision. Colors were spot on for the most part, but grain seemed to be a present issue especially in some of the darker and brighter scenes (see 42 minutes and 10, 46 minutes respectively). One of the more pleasant experiences though were some of the locales and costumes. While the grain seemed to be a present issue, the transfer was just fine.
Syriana arrives with either an English or French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Audio Track. Dialogue was clear and simple while the overall dynamics of the film, which were rather silent since the film was rather dialogue driven. Some of the film’s louder scenes, for example, take 5:40 in the film (one of the first explosions) seemed rather muffled. Despite a few mishaps, the audio gets the job done.
Originally announced as a lavish two disc edition, Warner Brothers scanted down and only released a one disc edition with a few features. This makes me wonder if Warner will HD-DVD this film very soon.
- A Conversation with George Clooney: This, as the title describes, features a basic sit down/Q-A with George Clooney. He deals with some of the film’s topics, issues and what it was like making the film.
- Make a Change, Make a Difference: Now this is an interesting feature. Since this was a politically charged film, this feature dealt with the oil concepts behind the film presenting the question if we, as a whole human race, dealt with this oil issue, we could definitely make a difference. An excellent feature solely for the issue behind it.
- Deleted Scenes: Here we get three deleted scenes. The first up is Scene #8 – Bob, Margaret and Robbie at the café. The scene is a basic conversation between the three characters. The second is Scene 58 – Bob and Fred walk and talk. The scene deals with Robert Barnes and Fred Franks speaking on an issue. The final scene is Scene 123 – Margaret visits Bob. The scene, which is kind of brief, is nothing special. The three-presented scenes, while not really adding much more to the film’s final product, were interesting to see. I would have really enjoyed a commentary from Gaghan on why they were deleted.
- Trailer: Here we get the Theatrical Trailer.
While the DVD release arrives with a few video and audio problems, which don’t horribly hurt the film, the amount of features presented for a film of this nature was rather disappointing. Still though the film is incredibly fascinating and important which I can recommend for, at least, a rental based on this sole fact.
Special Features List
- A Conversation with George Clooney
- Make a Change, Make a Difference
- Deleted Scenes