(R) 3 Stars
One of the many unwritten rules of movie-making is this: Whenever an actor gains a significant amount of weight for a role, the movie will include a scene where he appears shirtless, so that viewers can see the result of his dedication to his craft. George Clooney put on roughly 30 pounds for his part in Syriana and, indeed, we get a look-see at his bare torso. Alas, the scene in which it happens turns violent so quickly that there is no time to drink in the glory of his fresh blubber.
Stephen Gagham, who wrote Traffic, is the screenplay writer and director of Syriana, a multilayered geopolitical thriller based on the book by Robert Baer. Critical response to the movie has been rapturous (81 percent positive at rottentomatoes.com as I write this), so you may want to bear that in mind when I tell you that I found the film overcomplicated and emotionally distant. Oh, and glib.
There are many interesting moments and a few of the major scenes play out well, but for most of the film, I was too busy trying to remember who was who and how they related with each other to fully experience the movie. Either Syriana is overly dense or I am. In case the latter is true, I suggest you find a lengthy review at the Rotten Tomatoes Web site and use the plot description as a study guide.
The best I can offer is this: There are several storylines, most of which stem from the decision by progressive Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig) to award drilling rights for his Gulf state to the Chinese. This hits Texas energy giant Connex hard in the pocketbook, forcing them to seek a merger with Killen, a smaller oil company owned by Jimmy Pope (Chris Cooper), which makes the Justice Department suspicious.
You'll also meet energy analyst (and grieving father) Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) and his frustrated wife Julie (Amanda Peet), lawyers Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer) and Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright), potential suicide bomber Wasim Khan (Mazhar Munir) and, of course, middle-age secret agent Bob Barnes (George Clooney).
Sort it all out, if you have the inkling.