Time Out says

What kind of title is Syriana? An insidery, self-congratulatory one. Blame screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, stepping behind the camera for his directorial debut after winning an Oscar for Traffic. To his credit, he has big game in his sights: a rapacious oil-industry president (Cooper), a covert American agent intervening in foreign affairs (Clooney), a corporate-coddled attorney smoothing over a pending merger (Wright). But what Gaghan's ultraserious, ultralefty Syriana needs most—and lacks—is a human heart. Any kind of concession to dramatic principles of suspense and release would have been nice too, or, barring that, a simple definition of that blasted title. (Some online research reveals it to be a Beltway think-tank term for the reinvention of Middle East countries in America's own image.)

Evidently, such matters of thematic coherence, so well explored by Gaghan in Traffic, were not as important to him this time around, and it's a mistake. And when a film also includes, in underwritten roles, the ever-likable Matt Damon as a grief-stricken energy advisor and Deep Space Nine's magnetic Alexander Siddig as a forward- thinking Arab prince, a lack of emotional connection is inexcusable.

Syriana is an especially sprawling ensemble film, one that would have benefited from, if not judicious pruning, then more time spent with its strongest characters. As adapted from former CIA agent Robert Baer's memoir See No Evil, the obvious candidate for an anchor would have been Clooney's spy. But like the actor himself, bulked up with 30 pounds of unnecessary fat for the role, Syriana feels too padded with inchoate outrage for its own good. (See Now playing for venues.)
—Joshua Rothkopf



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