"One of the best geopolitical thrillers in a very long time....Syriana spins a complex, intriguing narrative about oil, terrorism, money and power."

"A fearless and ambitious piece of work, made with equal parts passion and calculation, an unapologetically entertaining major studio release with compelling real-world relevance, a film that takes numerous risks and thrives on them all."
~ Kenneth Turan, LOS ANGELES TIMES

"Mr. Gaghan doesn't insult our intelligence, but he demands our attention. If you're up to those demands, you'll be rewarded."


Thanks to all who attended SYRIANA Thursday evening.  The AMC's change of screening times threw a bit of a wrench into the works, necessitating a change in restaurants, but everyone responded wonderfully.

The 8 PM screening sold out and 9 of our folks were turned away without tix.  But 32 made it into the movie and 25 joined the post-film discussion at Bar Louie, which broke up circa midnight.

During our conversation after the film, Bill O'Neill talked about two books by former CIA operative Robert Baer:  "See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism," which provided the impetus for SYRIANA and "Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude."  Both are available at the Public Library, local booksellers and via the Internet.  For more on Baer, read the Salon.com interview here.

Attendees rated SYRIANA on a 5.0 scale.  High scores were 4.6 and a couple 4.5s; low scores were 2.0 and 2.5.  The rest of the ratings clustered between 3.5 and 4.3 with an average group score of 3.926.  Not a bad group score for a film with high complexity and multiple storylines...

Most important was the opportunity for people to interact, make new friends and share opinions about the film and the state of the world in general.

If you all would like to do more of this kind of thing in the future, please send an email to Tim Swallow, along with any suggestions regarding film titles, venue and post-film meeting place.

“While ‘Syriana’ is a very real term used by Washington think-tanks to describe a hypothetical reshaping of the Middle East, as our title it is used more abstractly.  ‘Syriana,’ the concept – the fallacious dream that you can successfully remake nation-states in your own image – is a mirage.  Syriana is a fitting title for a film that could exist at any time and be about any set of circumstances that deal with man’s unchecked ambition, hubris, and the fantasy of empire.” ~ Director Stephen Gaghan

Join us Thursday, December 29 for the 7:00 PM screening of "SYRIANA" at the AMC Cinemas in Newport.   Parking is only $1 when you present your garage parking ticket at the AMC Courtesy Desk.

We'll meet after the film for discussion, food and beverage at the Café Istanbul, on the Plaza (street) level on the East side of the Levee complex. The reservation is under the name of Tim Swallow and we have a private space reserved in the back of the restaurant. Recommend the appetizers or a light meal - during our 'test' visit, an appetizer for two, hot pita bread, Turkish tea and Turkish coffee came in at a very affordable $12. The sampler platter is great also; the food, service and ambiance are excellent and the kitchen will be open until 10 PM.     Café Istanbul details and menu    AMC Map & Directions


Unlike his earlier work TRAFFIC, for which he won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, director Stephen Gaghan's parallel plots in SYRIANA artfully converge at the end, hence the studio tag line "It's all connected."  But, just because we see how the threads connect does not mean that all issues are resolved.

Just the opposite.  The film ends abruptly, without closure, leaving some questions unanswered.  I think this could be intentional - the filmmakers want viewers to challenge their baseline assumptions and acceptance of how things work in the world.

It is not difficult to divine the film's surface message about our dependence on oil.  That's the easy part, regardless of the viewer's political leanings.  But by drilling down to another level, SYRIANA shows us the mechanisms employed by U.S. security agencies and mega-petrocorps to gain and maintain access to oil and its revenue stream.  Indeed, the film makes the case that our foreign policy serves the interests of business foremost, while national security is at times a poorly served afterthought.

With the lack of a tidy, clean-cut ending to SYRIANA, cinema metaphorically imitates life, illustrating the current situation with U.S. foreign policy, where we see the creation of new problems without resolution of existing ones.

Some reviewers said that getting to the end of the film is a complex process.  True, but I did not find the threads insurmountable, especially after reviewing the producers' film notes (see link below).  While requiring the viewer to pay attention, the film was enhanced by a compelling ensemble effort from a stellar cast.  George Clooney and Matt Damon could have easily commanded the bulk of the screen time, but Gaghan and Clooney opted for substantial parts for all principals, building out the multiple storylines.

SYRIANA is much more than just a realistic and gritty action film - the subject matter and multi-level messages will resonate with audiences willing to think about what they are seeing.  The effective work with handheld cameras makes it feel at times like a documentary, adding to the overall realism and believability.  The filmmakers and all involved took this project seriously, striving for authenticity at every level; for example: Clooney learned to speak Arabic and put on thirty pounds for his role.  One noticeable failing was the score.  Some sequences seemed to borrow from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 2002 short film POWDER KEG, and the balance of the music was flat, failing to accent or enhance the tension produced on-screen.

Another interesting element is the father-son relationship specific to each of the central characters, which adds subtle nuance and yet another level to the film.  The "sins of the father" paradigm is simply present, visible but unaddressed, challenging the viewer to identify and digest one more aspect of an already complex structure.  Nuance aside, the main thrust of SYRIANA succeeds -- at the end of the film I was convinced that it plausibly depicts how things really work in the realms of global finance, petroleum, covert operations and the power structure in the upper echelons of America and the rest of the world.

SYRIANA is not for those looking for simple, casual entertainment -- harvesting the full impact and rich context takes work.  Nor is it flawless, due to the layered characters and density of the plot.  The well-researched-and-written screenplay, top-notch cast and performances, terrific cinematography, excellent choice of locations and high production values combine to make a powerful film, with Oscar nominations a possibility.
~ Tim Swallow                  


SYRIANA is a story of political intrigue and international economics that spans three continents and at least four story lines.  We follow the interwoven paths of CIA veteran Bob Barnes (George Clooney), energy analyst and consultant Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), petroleum lawyer Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) and Pakstani immigrant oilfield worker Wasim Khan (Mazhur Munir).  These central characters are buttressed by fine performances from Alexander Siddig, Christopher Plummer, Amanda Peet and William Hurt, Akbar Kurtha and Chris Cooper.  This film is difficult to adequately condense to a single paragraph - please read the filmmakers' Production & Story Notes, via the link below.

<> See the Trailer:    Official Film Site

<> Learn more about the film - concept, writing, production, locations and cast:    SYRIANA Production & Story Notes

<> Matt Damon:  "People should go see this movie - it's the type of movie you plan to go have a cup of coffee or drink afterwards and talk about it - that's the point - you elevate the discourse."  Watch the entire unscripted conversation, as   Clooney and Damon interview each other...