a little disappointed with this one, didn't quite live up to the big praise it seemed to be getting.
i'm far from one who needs all the loose ends tied up neatly at the end of a film. but Syriana seemed a little too all over the place, a little too much insinuation, a little too Fahrenheit 9/11 loosey-goosey with the conspiracy theories. too many unanswered questions, for example:
1. why was bob baer (george clooney) selling bombs to iranians? (presumably only to establish that he's a shady double-dealer.)
2. what's with the references to bob's wife being in the secret service too?
3. what exactly does bryan woodman (matt damon) do? he's an energy futures trader, but he's also doing spots for some kind of news broadcast, but he's also doing some kind of pitch to the lebanese emir, and ends up being the prince of lebanon's financial advisor.
4. why is bennett holiday working for a prestigious private law firm with obvious ties to the oil industry but then also doing investigation into that law firm on behalf of the justice department? (gee, conflict of interest?)
5. what exactly did barton (the guy on TV who later gives that wonderfully cynical speech about corruption) get busted for?
6. what was in it for holiday to screw hewett over at the end? and he has an alcoholic father, so what?
7. the two kids who get kicked out of their oilfield jobs and end up in a madrasah and become suicide bombers don't ever really fit into the main plot. the repetition of the father's "snow covered mountains" fantasy seems a bit silly.
8. who are these CLI (committee to liberate iran) guys? just generally shadowy and nebulous player in all this apparently. (NEW: i was going to say the whole hunting scene seemed a bit contrived until this little item came out.)
9. why are bob's bosses at the CIA or NSA or whatever so quick to dispose of him? (just cuz he's a bad double-dealer? pretty callous...)
10. who exactly is the jimmy/mussawi guy that sets up bob and what is he, just some general american islam convert gunrunner thug? and what's his relationship to hashimi, who is presumably some kind of cleric or imam? (he clearly has authority, stepping in and preventing jimmy/mussawi from torturing bob any further.) and why does bob think he can trust these people, especially if he knows them from his beirut days of 20 years ago when he presumably screwed them over by scoring points for the US?
11. if holiday is such a rising young hotshot lawyer why is he doing gruntwork pulling files in a warehouse? (maybe he really is just a dutiful justice department civil servant? we never really know...)
12. where exactly does whiting (christopher plummer) derive his power? he's the founding partner of the law firm working on the oil merger, so what? how exactly is he going about essentially bribing young arab princes at the US government's bidding? (secret powerful men...)
13. the details holiday uncovers that suposedly threaten the oil merger from going through, what are they exactly?
14. who is the william hurt character and why is he able to clue bob in to what's going on without putting himself at risk? (secret deep throat types...)
15. why does bob, presumably on the william hurt character's advice, threaten whiting? how do any of them know that whiting has anything to do with any of it?
16. what exactly did hewett get busted for?
17. what exactly is bob trying to do in his return trip to beirut and driving up to the prince's convoy, warn them? and again how does he know the US plans to take the prince out, is it all from the william hurt character?
the only way to answer a lot of these questions is to say: they're all in on it, everyone in this movie's a selfish bastard. seems too like they cut a fair bit from the screenplay (PDF) that might have clarified some of this. otherwise this was a pretty garden variety hollywood thriller with some topicality and garden variety liberal insinuation. not much more. and it's because of the topicality and the charges of oversimplifications that the "no blood for oil" chants (correctly) bring on that i'dve like to see this handled with a little less insinuation and nebulously connected shadowy powerful men.