It forces you to intently watch and listen and ask questions, something that in the past six years has been skillfully portrayed as an unpatriotic response to an increasingly complex international scenario.
Your enjoyment of this movie will be in direct proportion to your patience. If you can stand not knowing everything right now and wait for the story's threads to weave into a rug, Syriana makes for an engaging time.
One can say of Mr. Gaghan, Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Clooney that their heads may be in the right place in Syriana, but their hearts are not much in evidence as far as any emotional investment in their characters is concerned.
It's a strange movie, and a stunningly pessimistic one, and the strangeness and pessimism connect it (in my mind, at least) to other recent American films in ways that suggest that something unhappy in the national mood has crept into the movies.
The stars are all good here ... (and they're aided by supporting work from dependable performers such as Chris Cooper, William Hurt and Christopher Plummer) and Clooney -- and his story -- really shines.
The presence of George Clooney, Matt Damon and other fine actors helps you ignore your sense of descending ignorance as the movie unfolds. And the ending, when you think about it for a few days, does add up.
A fearless and ambitious piece of work, made with equal parts passion and calculation, an unapologetically entertaining major studio release with compelling real-world relevance, a film that takes numerous risks and thrives on them all.
Somehow, the movie convinces you, through its strengths of characterization and atmosphere, that it's showing a little of how the world really works -- and that the world's dark machinations are every bit as sordid and pitiless as your worst suspicions.
This is a cynical but undoubtedly accurate portrayal of the inner workings of international politics, where white-shoe lawyers and oil executives can be nearly as ruthless as the CIA hit men and missile-toting rebels.