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PCR # 298  (Vol. 6, No. 49)  This edition is for the week of December 5--11, 2005.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith
Two and a half stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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Warner Brothers     
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright and Christopher Plummer
Directed by: Steve Gaghan
Rated: R
Running Time: 2 hours 16 mins

In the Broadway show, "Cabaret," the emcee tells us that "Money makes the world go 'round." Wrong. According to the players in the game called "Syriana," it's oil. Black gold. Texas Tea. And, like with toys, whoever has the most, wins.

Director/screenwriter Gaghan, who won an Oscar for his script of "Traffic," has taken former CIA agent Robert Baer's book about his past work in the Middle East and turned it into an almost up to the minute look at the world today. Clooney is Robert Barnes, an operative for the CIA who deals mostly in supplying weapons to our allies and their causes in the Middle East. The buyers are not fanatics. They are very disciplined, even postponing their deals until after prayer. Barnes has been in the game a long time, and is obviously being groomed for a high level desk job. However, his knowledge and contacts keep sending him back into danger. Damon is Bryan Woodman, an analyst at an energy trading company currently living in Geneva with his wife and two young sons. Woodman is sent to negotiate with a very powerful Emir, one whose family holds many of the oil rights. The meeting is held at one of the Emir's estates and Woodman is invited to bring his family along. Instead of meeting with the Emir face to face, Woodman is met by a delegate, almost guaranteeing a negative outcome. But, when his oldest son is killed in an accident in the Emir's pool, Woodman learns the deal is his, though he must struggle with how he got the job. "How much is my other son worth, " he asks sarcastically.

The film then jumps to Texas, Pakistan and Washington D.C. Like "Traffic," the film is told in connecting story arcs, but unfortunately they don't flow as well. Which is a shame because the film is full of great actors giving great performances, beginning with Clooney. Overweight and with a scraggly beard, Clooney brings makes Barnes not a super spy, like 007, but a man with the same problems we all face. It's hard to manage work, travel and putting your kid through college as it is. Now try it duct taped to a chair with your fingernails being pulled out. Damon gets a chance to chew some scenery and the rest of the cast keep pace. Wright shines as an attorney investigating the latest big oil company merger while Chris Cooper and Tim Blake Nelson have great moments as Texas oil men.

The film adds a terrorist training subplot featuring a young man bitter about losing his job when the oil company he works for is bought by another. I'm not sure of the accuracy, but the way he is quietly recruited is pretty impressive. But again, this is another jump in a film that is literally all over the map. And I mean all over. While driving down I 95 Clooney not only drives past my old townhouse community in Baltimore but he later shows up in the parking lot of my favorite mall.

A story that doesn't flow as smoothly as the oil it glorifies, "Syriana" is still a good drama with some outstanding performances. On a scale of zero to four stars, I give it  Two and a half stars

This week's movie review of "Syriana" is ©2005 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2005, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.