SYRIANA (Stephen Gaghan). 126 min. Opens Wednesday (November 23). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NN Rating: NN
As a thriller, Syriana offers little more than great gobs of plot. Writer/director Stephen Gaghan , who won the best-adapted-screenplay Oscar for Traffic, wants this to be Traffic with oil.
But unless you're a belligerent American, it won't matter to you whether the oil company merger goes through and the U.S., not China, gets the oil rights from the fictitious emirate. Unless you're fresh out of grade school, you won't be surprised that everyone's cutting backroom deals, blackmailing and resorting to murder.
The stereotypical characterizations - progressive and playboy shieks, corrupt Texas oil magnates, embittered terrorists - drain any sense of tragedy or desperation from the story of a Pakistani teen's progress from oilfield worker to terrorist.
George Clooney can act, but his CIA operative is too hopelessly naive to be believable. Matt Damon , as a financial analyst who suddenly finds himself in the big leagues, relies on his usual restrained boyish charm. As a lawyer who gets pulled into the corruption, Jeffrey Wright is so understated that we can only glimpse what's inside.
That leaves veterans like Christopher Plummer to have fun, which they do, but not enough to claim over two hours of your only life.