DVD SPOTLIGHT – Syriana

SYRIANA (2005)

Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Christopher Plummer, Amanda Peet, Chris Cooper and William Hurt.  

Written and Directed by Stephen Gaghan 

128 minutes 

Released in 2005, Syriana disappeared quickly into oblivion after the Oscar season. The film was praised by critics but for the most part spurned by moviegoers due to its complex subject matter. Syriana centers around how the oil business moves people and nations around like chess pieces on a board. It connects a myriad of different storylines from a CIA officer (George Clooney) hung out to dry to oil workers drawn unwittingly into terrorism to an investigation into a merger between two oil companies that threatens to destabilize the royal family of a middle eastern nation being advised by a broken energy analyst (Matt Damon).

This is a film that takes several viewings for its sense of weight to be lifted off you. It can stay with you for a while and it makes you want to go back for another foray into its politics. I admit I didn’t get it all the first time but after the second and third viewing, I found its measured pace compelling. It never quite reaches the emotional resonance I was hoping for but it has a quiet, insidious way of staying embedded in your head. 

SPECIAL FEATURE 1:   A Conversation with George Clooney (9:07) 

Part making of, part interview, there are some good moments in here but nevertheless puts this featurette in mediocre territory. Here, Clooney explains his role in Syriana

  1. Syriana recalls the film of the 70s with a social conscience
  2. Clooney likens the movie to a strong ensemble piece (not unlike ER) that attracted him and the rest of the cast because of Stephen Gaghan’s script
  3. A clip showing Gaghan directing Clooney on set (always the stuff you want to see but never enough of it)
  4. Robert Baer and his involvement and how Clooney based his character on him. Baer is the author of the book See No Evil, from which Syriana is partly based on
  5. Missing scenes of Clooney’s character with Greta Scachhi playing his estranged wife
  6. Transforming himself physically - putting on 30 pounds, and speaking Farsi

SPECIAL FEATURE 2: Make a Change, Make a Difference (11:06) 

This piece touches on the social implications of the energy and oil business and how the cogs of capitalism churn out conflicted stands on using oil and the issues of corruption. There are interviews with the actors as well as Baer, consultant Stephen MacSearraigh and producer Jennifer Fox.  It’s enough to make you realize how oil is still the Holy Grail of our modern times. 

SPECIAL FEATURE 3: Deleted Scenes 

There are three deleted scenes: 

  1. The character of Margaret, Clooney’s estranged wife played by Greta Scachhi, was completely eliminated to keep the story focused on his character’s disillusionment and breakdown. The scene in an Iranian café is rife with tension and regret and Scachhi is well cast in a good role. Too bad her character was cut. The editing here is terrific.
  2. A scene inside a CIA hallway with Bob and his college buddy, Fred, played by Thomas McCarthy. This scene nicely contrasts a suit’s perspective and that of an agent’s view from the field.
  3. An excellent scene in a hospital involving Bob and Margaret where he confides secrets to her. It’s an emotional scene and Scachhi is again very good here.

I am sure I will no doubt watch Syriana many more times over and get a different perspective each time. The special features on this disc are paltry and undeserving for a film this deep and complex. This is one of those discs that looks designed to be issued with a special or collector’s edition at some point. So to the powers that be, here’s what I’m hoping would show up in those versions: 

  1. The director’s cut of the story – I feel there are more layers that can fill the dark corners of the storylines
  2. Commentaries by Stephen Gaghan, George Clooney (why would he not want to talk about the most substantial role of his career?), Jeffrey Wright (one of the best actors around) and several other key cast and crew members. I’m thinking at least 2 commentaries, maybe even 3 with one just for the experts on the subject of oil and espionage
  3. Expert commentary on the subject matter from a host of different perspectives
  4. A feature on Robert Baer, the ex-CIA case officer that inspired Clooney’s character
  5. A featurette on Gaghan and his writing and directing process

That’s at least the tip of it. I’ll let the studio figure out the iceberg below.  


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