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Syriana script review

11.19.2004

SYRIANA SCRIPT REVIEW
(positive / heavy spoilers)

Director: Stephen Gaghan
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Chris Cooper, Gina Gershon, Amanda Peet, Greta Scacchi

Middle-East. Two words that create very different opinions from everyone. Nowhere else on the globe does politics, oil and terrorism play a bigger part. No one so far has shown the upper echelons of that world on the big-screen till now. Stephen Gaghan, Oscar winner for Traffic, has written and is currently directing SYRIANA. Imagine a Traffic-like story set around the political world surrounding the middle-east region. He has enlisted a group of solid thespians headlined by George Clooney, Matt Damon and Amanda Peet. I'll be reviewing a draft dated March 31st 2004. The screenplay is based on the book "See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism" written by Robert Baer.

Syriana: a geopolitical term created by the CIA referring to the Middle East hot spots that have proved so volatile to U.S. security.

Bryan and Alice Woodman (Matt Damon and Amanda Peet) have two small children Max and Riley. Bryan, an oil price analyst in Switzerland. The family is invited to a luscious dinner party, by a big client, the Emir of an Arabic nation. At the party, his son Max gets electrocuted in one of the pool. The Royal family give the Woodman a generous compensation and an even better job for Bryan. He starts working directly for Prince Nasir, the moderated heir to the throne.

Miss USA Mary Alice Johnson (Michelle Monaghan) was also invited to the same party.

She gets entwined with Raja Salaam a.k.a. Mr. 5%, an oil magnate working with the royal family. She becomes his lover and gets amazing benefits from it. After a while, she becomes bored with the rich arab. He notices it and starts cheating on her. Will she return to him or start her own life?

Bob Baer (George Clooney) is a CIA agent working in Teheran, Iran. He hasn't seen his wife Margaret nor his son Robby in a while. After an arms deal goes wrong, he gets played by Mohammed Sheik Agiza, a mysterious Arab terrorist, who seems to be involved with Prince Meshal, the dangerous younger brother of Nasir. Baer gets info from the CIA concerning Agiza's recent whereabouts and decides to go after him in Beirut. It's a very dangerous mission for him because he once infiltrated Hezbollah meaning he has a target on his back.

Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright), an African-American lawyer, works for CONNEX, an oil conglomerate, who's trying to buy MIDLAND, another big oil company. His job is to work out the fine details. The company has made deals with Kazakhstan concerning pipelines in the Caspian Sea. Unfortunately if the Caspian is considered a lake, every countries that touches it owns a piece of the oil pie including Iran. The US Congress has made it illegal to trade with Iran. If the Caspian is considered a lake, the company would lose their oil rights. In order to make the company the most profitable corporation in America, Bennett has to fight vigorously for Connex. But what he wasn't expecting was the strong resistance of the US Attorneys and having to navigate through shady corporate business.

Syed and Wasim are two Pakistani workers on a middle-eastern oil refinery. The new owners fire them. Out in the street with nothing to do and without food, they're helped and befriend by a radical Muslim Cleric. All he asks for them is to listen to his teaching and pray with him at his mosque. Of course, he has a bigger hidden agenda in mind that will be set in motion by his friend Mohammed Sheik Agiza. Will the two young men accepts their divine mission?

This was the first screenplay I read on my way for some good vacations in the Outer banks region of North-Carolina. I ended up reading close to 25 scripts during that time but none were as good as this one. The screenplay has no real flaws. Stephen Gaghan has managed to entertain me for 151 pages. Slowly, you start putting together the many pieces of the puzzle. The final image is to my surprise very delightful. I only found one storyline a bit weak. It's the Miss USA/Rich Arab plotline. How it fit in the general story wasn't really relevant. If the movie is too long, I wouldn't be surprised if Gaghan cuts a lot of it. Is it better then Traffic? Yes, but my only concern is Stephen Gaghan's directing. Steven Sodebergh took a great script by him and made it a visual masterpiece. Can he do the same for his own written work? I'm sure everyone is intrigued to know if Clooney and Damon share a scene together. They actually do and it's an extremely crucial moment in the film. It's just the icing on the cake for a fantastic story.

If you have seen George Clooney's pictures from the set, he looks different. He has gained close to 25lbs to play Bob Baer. It doesn't read like a typical Clooney-like character and it's refreshing. At one point, he gets seriously tortured and I was just waiting for the interrogator to say: 'Why did you have to make Batman & Robin?' I'm just kidding. Gaghan also did a wonderful job penning Baer's family. His poor teenage son Robby wants a normal prom but he can't because he lives in Pakistan. Life isn't easy for CIA operatives and we clearly witness their family ordeals in this story.

My favorite plotline was the one involving the Woodman family. Matt Damon and Amanda Peet have superb scenes together. At the beginning, they seem to have the perfect young family. They're hit by a strategy and each spouse takes a different direction in how to deal with it. I love the way the two characters were written. They felt extremely human and vulnerable. I'll be bold and predict that perhaps these two performers will get nominated for their work in this film.

While doing some research on this project, I noticed that Alexander Siddig (Star Trek: Deep Space 9) has been hired for this film. If anyone know who he's playing, please contact me. He's an incredible actor and I hope Stephen Gaghan gave him the role of Prince Nasir.

Scratch this project as the first contender for the best film of 2005. Let's just hope Stephen Gaghan does a Soderbergh-esque performance behind the camera.

Jean-François Allaire a.k.a. 'DeadPool', at 25 years old, has become a respected entertainment journalist, having contributed articles to Scr(i)pt Magazine and Screenwriters Monthly. J-F also wrote a weekly movie column for Corona's Coming Attractions and eventually TNMC from 1998 to 2003. He's currently a script reader for a Canadian film distributor.

PREVIOUS SCRIPT REVIEWS:
The Legend of Zorro

Source: JoBlo.com

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