A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie isn't for kids as the plot and themes are too complex and mature. Parents should know it includes several disturbing scenes, including the accidental electrocution/drowning of a young boy in a swimming pool (including the mother's distress); a torture scene in which a character's fingernails are pulled out; and a CIA missile strike against a car convoy (explosion and aftermath featuring bloody, burning bodies). The film focuses in part on a CIA agent who orchestrates assassinations; U.S. oil company executives and lawyers also conspire to arrange violence; and a young Pakistani becomes a suicide bomber (last pictured as he heads toward a U.S. ship). Characters curse, drink, and smoke.
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What's the story?
Veteran CIA agent Bob Barnes (George Clooney) has begun to doubt the morality of his work so his bosses make a strategic, expedient choice: they'll deplete Bob until he's dead. When Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig) makes an oil deal with China instead of the U.S. company Connex, Bob's bosses send him to oversee the young sheik's assassination. Connex moves to merge with the smaller Killen, owned by old school Texan Jimmy Pope (Chris Cooper), which has drilling rights in Kazakhstan. The merger will create the world's fifth largest oil and gas company. The shift to Chinese ownership has far-reaching effects including worker layoffs in the Gulf, which leads angry young men to terrorism. The Justice Department puts Washington law firm Sloan Whiting on Killen's Kazakhstan contract. Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer) sends Ben Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) to gather exploitable intel and set up for a second deal with Nasir's corrupt brother Prince Meshal (Akbar Kurtha). A subplot involves energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), whose weekend at Prince Nasir's Geneva home ends in tragedy. When Nasir feels badly about the accident, and brings Bryan on as his own policy consultant, the naïve American tells himself that he now has a chance to make energy a force for progressive politics.
Is it any good?
Complicated and intelligent, SYRIANA focuses on multiple storylines involving corporate and official energy deals, and various sorts of betrayals. The film is built on fine performances and difficult positions, a mature, provocative look at global machinations performed by small-minded men. Inspired by See No Evil, a 2002 memoir by former CIA operative Robert Baer, Syriana follows Bob's complex moral dilemma. He's not a conventionally good man, but a desperate, dedicated, and eventually, broken one.
The problem is that the system is not set up for progressive anything. Corruption, as Pope's lobbyist puts it, is not deviation but business as usual. "Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulation... Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm." While some will learn this lesson at their daddies' knees, others must bend to it, accept it and finesse it, in order to survive.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the interrelationships between personal/moral and public/ political decisions. How are government and corporate policies linked and at odds? How are the several father-and-son relationships like and unlike each other? Does Bob's seeming effort to save Prince Nasir affect your opinion of his work as a CIA agent?
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