The bulk of media coverage relating to Syriana gives the impression that this is one of the most searing and controversial docudramas ever made, intended to sock it to President George W. Bush and the conservative right. Provocative, yes, and timely for sure, but controversial? To some extent, perhaps, but Fahrenheit 9/11 it is not.
Syriana is partly inspired by See No Evil, the Robert Baer book that chronicles his experiences in the CIA with terrorism and the oil industry. Writer and director Stephen Gaghan uses that along with his own research to scrutinize the business and politics of international oil in the same way that the drug trade was explored in Steven Soderbergh's 2000 film Traffic, for which Gaghan earned an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Both movies boast remarkably deep casts of acclaimed actors, and both tackle their subjects with interwoven storylines. It's a device that allows Syriana to effectively cover the economic, legal, political, and social ramifications of trade relations between America and the Middle East over one of the world's most precious commodities.
The first of the film's storylines involves Robert Barnes, a middle-aged CIA operative clearly derived from Robert Baer, and played by a heavier-set George Clooney. He's in Iran tracking down the illegal arms trade among terrorists when one of the weapons he's using as bait goes missing. Before he can pursue it further, he's taken off the assignment to investigate Nasir Al-Subaai (Star Trek: DS9's charismatic Alexander Siddig), who is rumored to have "funds in dark corners" as the apparent heir to an Arab empire. Barnes is simply trying to carry out his life's work while doing what's best for his family, but he soon finds himself in over his head when ...1
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