Syriana is written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, who is most famous for writing Traffic. Indeed, this film is very much in the mould of Traffic, complete with discrete characters (including Matt Damon and Chris Cooper), plot arcs that interconnect and much chopping and changing between them.
The storyline is therefore hard to pin down, but essentially involves three things. The first is a plot by the US government and a group called the Committee for the Liberation of Iran to replace the Iranian government with a Western style democracy who is sympathetic towards the developed world. The goal being, of course, to protect US oil interests.
The second storyline follows the dodgy dealings of two oil companies who are merging to become Connex-Killen, a massive conglomerate that wants to take advantage of the energy resources in China. The subsequent investigation into the companies and their lawyers goes to show how corrupt the industry and the investigators are.
The final strand of plot, which seems almost out of place, involves an Islamic terrorist cell that recruits disgruntled immigrants and teaches them about the Koran and how to be suicide bombers.
There are some superb sequences in this film, not least of all the opening, which sees Clooney's character wheeling and arms-dealing in the Middle East. There are scenes that really stick in the mind and the tension the director makes the audience feel is well worth experiencing. Unfortunately, the scattered style of storytelling that Gaghan used in Traffic becomes quite irksome and is definitely unnecessary. It would be much more enjoyable to watch if the film didn't cut to a different story every time it gets interesting.
There is plenty to admire in Syriana, from the topical subject matter to Clooney's stand-out performance, but ultimately there's enough lacking to stop this film being as good as it should be. And with films like Lord of War, Jarhead and The Constant Gardener released recently, do we really need another desert-based, government conspiracy/evil corporation picture?