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Syriana: 'Cynical, Explosive and Smart, Smart, Smart'

Jan. 10, 2006 –– With the release of Syriana, George Clooney is rapidly changing his status from handsome hunk to Hollywood's standard-bearer for liberal causes.
So says Atlanta Journal-Constitution critic Eleanor Ringel Gillespie about Clooney's new persona. She calls his new film Syriana, " Cynical, explosive, and smart, smart, smart." Clooney produced and co-stars in the film, a complicated story of espionage, global politics, religion, and the oil business, for openers.
Syriana, follows Clooney's highly praised Good Night and Good Luck, the story of famed newscaster Edward R. Murrow's career, which he also produced and co-stars in.
The movie, loosely based on former CIA agent Robert Baer's 2002 memoir See No Evil, covers four continents, and, most critics agree, at least four story lines. Still there? Ok, here's the main thrust, of the first story line, anyhow.
Gillespie says: "In one [story line] Clooney lets his hair go grizzled, grows a beard and puts on a Method gut straight out of the De Niro playbook. He plays Bob Barnes, a 21-year CIA veteran whose experience and expertise are a liability in a brave new world of watch-your-back management. 'You just don't get it,' a colleague says when Barnes reports an agency-sponsored weapons exchange gone bad. 'Nobody wants to hear about a missing missile'.
"Meanwhile, in Switzerland, Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), a telegenic energy analyst, makes a very personal blood-for-oil exchange. He's hired by Kazakhstan's progressive but pragmatic Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig), who feels guilty about a tragedy that struck the Woodman family. (Their young son drowned.) Bryan's wife (Amanda Peet) is horrified."
Got that? Boston Globe critic Wesley Morris says: Director Stephen Gaghan's Syriana, flies into theaters praised as a rarity: Hollywood doesn't make movies like this anymore. By "like this," those of us who appreciate Gaghan's movie mean "intelligent," "political," "incensed," "timely," and "appropriately cynical." And by "anymore," we mean since the 1970s. Syriana, is about something very specific — oil. Which is to say that actually it's about everything."
Meanwhile, we have Chris Cooper, Tim Blake Nelson and Peter Gerety who play what New Yorker critic David Denby calls, "self-serving oilmen [who] demonstrate the kind of blinkered self-assurance that wipes out any contrary view of the world. The wash of ego feels accurate."
Denby, who devotes three pages to his review, calls it "a major film without being a great film." He says, "It is a strange movie, and a stunningly pessimistic one, and the strangeness and the pessimism connect it …. to other recent American films in ways that suggest that something unhappy in the national mood has crept into the movies."
Critic Gillespie offers viewers a helpful hint: Get ready to get lost at some point in Syriana, . That's how dense the film's maze of plot twists and layers of characters are. But rest assured: The movie was written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, who won an Oscar for his similarly intertwined script for Traffic. You may not be with him every step of the way, but he makes sure you're up to speed when the crucial down-and-dirty realpolitiks go down and the dicier character choices are made.
The two hour six minute movie is rated R for violence and language.
It starts Thursday at Sunny Isle Theaters.

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