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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by Glen Wilson. 2005 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.)

DID I FORGET ANYTHING? CIA agent Bob Barnes (George Clooney) checks to make sure he has everything he needs. He has been assigned to assassinate Prince Nasir in order to further the interests of the United States in the oil rich Middle East.

Syriana: Over-Plotted Political Potboiler Ultimately Unsatisfying

Movie Review by Kam Williams

George Clooney gets an A for effort for taking a steep salary cut, gaining 30 pounds, and handling his own stunts. Unfortunately, the staging of a fight scene on the set backfired and left him with back pain and severe headaches which were subsequently helped by spinal surgery.

One would expect that Clooney's commitment above and beyond the call of duty would result in a movie masterpiece. Unfortunately, the film fails to measure up to its hype.

This espionage thriller was written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, who won an Academy Award for his adaptation of the script for Traffic. That examination of the international drug trade had lots of loose ends which were resolved satisfactorily. This less expertly crafted adventure is likely to have you scratching your head as you exit the theater.

After closely following a convoluted exposition of facts for over two hours one still can't fit the pieces of the cinematic jigsaw puzzle together. Don't be surprised to find yourself wondering whether you missed a critical clue and then be tempted to see the movie again to comprehend it fully.

Syriana's confusion is exacerbated by the cast of shallow characters. From inscrutable Arab sheiks, double-agents, Muslim fanatics, shady lobbyists, bungling bureaucrats, and crooked captains of industry, the rapid paced production never gives these archetypes enough depth to allow the audience to invest in them emotionally.

Syriana is saturated from start to finish with insinuation and innuendo. Shot primarily on locations in the Middle East, the film weaves a complicated web of intrigue revolving around the ruthless competition for control of the region's oil industry.

At the film's opening, we find CIA Agent Bob Barnes (Clooney) in Iran where a bungled covert operation leaves a rocket launcher in the wrong hands. In a neighboring oil rich country we witness the simmering tensions between Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig) and his brother, Prince Meshal (Akbar Kurtha), over which of them will ascend to the throne upon the demise of their aging father. Barnes' assignment is to assassinate Nasir, a reformist who has recently approved a deal assigning lucrative drilling rights to China. The U.S. wants Nasir taken out, because his Western oriented brother would be more amenable to American interests.

Energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) confronts an ethical dilemma when his young son dies in a tragic accident during a party thrown by Nasir. Should he accept the blood money offered to make amends and thereby potentially be in Nasir's debt?

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., attorney Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) has been hired to persuade the Justice Department to approve the acquisition of Killen, a small Texas oil firm, by Connex, a large conglomerate. Connex wants Killen, which received lucrative drilling rights in Kazakhstan, even though the company is being investigated by the government for unscrupulous practices.

Once the merger is approved, Connex plans to downsize and lay off migrant workers from Pakistan. Will the unemployed Pakistanis make them easy recruits for the jihad movement?

Syriana is effective in its effort to illustrate the interconnectedness of the world economy in the oil industry, but the characters are shallow. In the absence of an explanation of anyone's deeper motivations, we are expected to agree with the superficial suggestion that it's all about the oil. Politically paranoid, the movie doesn't really do much more than indict the usual suspects.

Good (2 stars). Rating: R for profanity and violence. Running time: 126 minutes. Studio: Warner Brothers.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

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