Today’s Prayer Focus


MPA Rating: R-Rating (MPA) for violence and language

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Thriller Drama
1 hr. 26 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
November 23, 2005 (limited)
December 9, 2005 (wide)
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures

Syria in the Bible

War in the Bible

What is the Biblical perspective on war? Answer

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

The Origin of bad—How did bad things come about? Answer

What kind of world would you create? Answer

Featuring George Clooney
Christopher Plummer
Jeffrey Wright
Chris Cooper
Matt Damon
Amanda Peet
Tim Blake Nelson
William Hurt
Mark Strong
See all »
Director Stephen Gaghan
Producer Ben Cosgrove, George Clooney, Jennifer Fox
Distributor Warner Bros. Pictures

“Everything is connected.”

From selling missiles in Tehran, to business propositions in Spain, to fat oil companies in Texas, to fatal decisions in Washington D.C., to the tragedy of the triumph of evil is some of the film “Syriana.” Adapted from Bob Baer’s book See No Evil: The True Story of a Foot Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (“Traffic”) also steps into the role of director for this new film that is chalk full of politics, corruption, strained international relationships and images of instability in the Middle East. Much like the Academy Award winning film “Traffic” that deals with the war on drugs and Mexico, this film highlights the contemporary crisis of wars over oil and the Middle East.

With several story lines and what seems like countless subplots, figuring out how “everything is connected” (slug line) takes some work while watching this movie. The main plots deal with CIA operative Bob Barnes (George Clooney), oil broker Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), corporate lawyer Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright), and Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (Alexander Siddig)—all of whom are affected by an enormous business deal that will merge two companies, making them one of the largest in the world. Their agenda is to offer oil at a cheaper rate, but what happens in the process involves choices that oppose most morals and crush the purest essence of humanity.

This is a very busy story from beginning to end and hits on a lot of hot topics that may rile up anyone already impassioned about these ideas. There are elements of entertainment, but the set-up is rather lengthy and involved until we finally get to any kind of pay off. Still, the film does come full circle and make its point very clearly, albeit not a happy one by any means. This movie raises questions and concerns and points out many possible problems occurring in our world today, but at the same time offers only a small glimpse of anything hopeful.

It might help to know that this moviegoer at one point walked out of the movie due to a disturbing scene. It was not because of any moral issue or offense, but because the thought of what was happening in a torture scene was too much to handle and caused physical nausea. But after a few minute hiatus in the lobby, I was able to resume watching the rest of the film. Others in the audience were obviously reacting to this scene, too, but they must have all been okay since they did not have to leave. But if you think you may be troubled by watching somebody’s fingernails being pulled out, be prepared for that kind of scene in this movie.

Overall, the film is clean, but does use some foul language, including the f-word and taking God’s name in vain. There is no sex or nudity, but there is some violence and violent images. There is one upsetting scene and image, where a young boy drowns in a backyard pool.

Being a multi-faceted movie is not to say that it is not enjoyable or entertaining. The mystery of what is happening, and the suspense created throughout it all is one that kept me interested throughout the course of the film. It is very involved, but does offer something more challenging than typical movie fare. It also offers some insight as to how young Middle Eastern men can be caught up in fanatical beliefs and be willing to offer their lives in a suicide mission.

This is a better than average movie, but you may not agree with all of its politics. Whether you take the proposed ideas and scenarios as absolute fact or not can be a side issue, and you can instead notice the things that are presented as being valuable, namely: humanity and honesty.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Minor

Viewer Comments
Positive—“Syriana” is a film that is VERY dense with plotlines and messages. But first and foremost, this film is about morality. There are very few films that showcase the challenges of maintaining ethics and morals. This film is filled to the brim with characters from different backgrounds who all have different and conflicting agendas. Some of them are businessmen, some work for the government, others are news correspondents, and some are Islamic oil workers. And ALL of these people have one motivation: to control OIL. Simply said, every character is driven by GREED.

One character does attempt to change his morals from wrong to right. Bob (George Clooney) is a CIA agent who is dispatched to murder an Islamic prince so that an American oil company can gain a big oil contract. Unfortunately for Bob, he is captured in Baghdad and subjected to a HORRIBLE torture (which is very intense, and may be hard to watch for many viewers!). But the torture in turn opens his eyes to the truth of his career and his mission on Earth. He has been blinded by the deceits of his employers and has been carrying out their dirty deeds unknowingly. He then decides to turn his life around and spread the truth to those whom he was sent to eliminate.

This storyline reminds of the story of Saul before his conversion: Then one day, while Saul was on one of his journeys of persecution, as he was nearing Damascus, he suddenly found himself surrounded by a very bright light. He fell to the ground and heard a voice from the heavens say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”

Bob is an excellent example of a redeemed soul in the midst of a turbulent and spiritless world. This film challenges viewers to question the motives and moral standpoints of everyone in the film, and to see that NONE of them are completely innocent and that GREED can corrupt anyone’s soul.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
Andrew, age 26
Positive—The movie was excellent. There is no denying the quality of the film making. It is intense and it requires a lot of effort for the viewer to keep track of everything that is going on. The intertwining of the stories was well put together and I went away from the movie thinking about its implications for days afterwards.

The comments about the politics should be put into context. Before anyone says that this is a terrorists’ recruitment film, they need to crack a history book and remember that America HAS interfered in world events in this way before (see South America for results). Sadly, as is the case with any rumblings in the world politic, money is at the root of all of the evil the comes to light. Anyone that thinks that this is some sort of conspiracy theorists’ movie should think again, and then get to a movie theater.

As a Christian, there is much in this movie to squirm about. People treat each other with utter contempt, money is far more important than values and even the “good guys” are murderous thugs, either through their actions or their influence. This is not a “good night out” kind of movie. This is a deep thinking, depressing and exhausting movie to watch. …
My Ratings: Average / 5
Paul, age 30
Positive—I recommend this film with very few reservations. Evangelicals who refuse to be part of a simplistic worldview that sees the preeminence (and sustenance) of American political and economic power as essential, even preternatural components of our spiritual citizenship would do well to see it. The film makes no apologies for impressing on its viewers that the price for continued material prosperity at home can come at an untenable and often tragic cost, not merely on our blood, treasure and spirit-but on the blood, treasure and spirit of billions outside our borders who benefit not at all from the willful exercise of our prerogatives. The multiple narratives that tangle and collide throughout the film reveal that these prerogatives are less motivated by a desire to further meaningful representative democracy abroad and mitigate the effects of economic injustice, but as the film rightly suggests, are dictated more by national conveniences.

There is a memorable and instructive scene towards the end of the film just before a reformist crown prince is about to be violently deposed by the United States for granting a Chinese consortium drilling rights to natural gas fields in his emirate. In his last meeting with the ruling members of his clan, he eloquently assays that when “five percent of the world’s population does fifty percent of its military spending, that nation has lost its ability to persuade.” In this and other revealing passages, the film asserts the capacity of fiction to tell truths, and asks mature, probing questions on the value of obedience and loyalty, the limitations and excesses of power, the desirability of Superpower status as an end in itself, the temper of American nationalism-and by extension the exact nature of our role here as pilgrims first and citizens second.

The moral order described by the film, and the competing motivations of the mainly American characters that people it lay bare the structures of a fallen world in all its ugly, self-serving and irrational complexity. Its depiction of an all-consuming global system driven only by naked self-interest asks us to pause and affirm where our true confidence lies, and our membership in a larger nation that transcends the terrestrial limits of this one.

The film also demystifies the high, preemptory value we place on people who profess to serve our interests, whether they be career foreign service officers, soldiers, lawyers, businessmen, supply-side economists, lobbyists or legislators. I am certainly not casting aspersions on the mandate for public service, but citizenship in a nation-state can sometimes make undeniable demands, and it is the responsibility of every Christian to be critical of the motivations behind any call to service-as duty can ennoble only if it is applied with a very high degree of circumspection.

…I urge the readers to weather the harrowing torture sequence that nauseated the reviewer; it should not be any more reprehensible when similarly bestial acts happen to non-Americans, especially if they are ostensibly implemented with our security and well-being in mind.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4½
IL, age 29
Positive—…one of the best movies to come out this year, thus far. Granted, it does have a complicated subplot structure, and required intense concentration to fully understand every aspect of the film; it is safe to say that this film is amazing. In addition, I think this film does an excellent job at exposing the true nature of the CIA and government doings in the Middle East. The movie itself has some language and gratuitous violence, but it is done, in my opinion, in a tasteful and realistic manner. I firmly believe that the purpose of this movie was not to make money, and not to create a film simply to entertain the public, but it was done as a political statement. Why else would someone make a movie this complicated combined with violent torture and the death of a small child with an excellent, yet depressing ending. Despite the depressing nature of it, the ending was so fitting to the overall attitude and tone of the film. This film exposes the CIA, it exposes the big business oil companies and their domination of not only the Middle East oil trade, but of their entire economic and political structures, and it exposes the reality of how America is wrong in fighting in the Middle East. The movie even states, “A country with 5% of the world’s population that spends over 50% of the world’s military spending clearly is in a state of decline.” This movie overall is amazing and should be seen by anyone and everyone mature enough to understand the story.
My Ratings: Average / 4½
Mark, age 18
Positive—Some people have taken to swearing by this movie, even in just the short time that it has been out. I am not one of them. However, it is an incredibly deep and intricate piece of storytelling, lacking only in that its characters are minimally developed, constrained by the breadth of the plot. I do not pretend to understand geopolitics in the Middle East, but “Syriana” portrays something far more believable than what I have read in newspapers or heard from my government. It addresses an issue—American oil dependence—and says “Look, this is an enormous problem.” Even if the film is overly pessimistic, overly simplified (hardly a word I would apply to this movie! It’s difficult to keep up with), it shows how oil politics are a problem, and it portrays how a terrorist can be more than an Islamic anti-West fanatic. It allows us to see how our country can be hated, in a way that is much more subtle and human than Michael Moore’s blustering. And it shows us that there just may be justification for that hate. It has nothing to do with democracy.
My Ratings: Average / 4½
Max, age 19
Positive—I felt this movie portrayed a realistic scenario of what did, does and can happen. It does not matter who the President is at the time; any President could be office when these situations happen. …I enjoyed this thought-provoking and intelligent movie, even if it is not a Christian film. We as people need to pay attention to world affairs, as well as our own.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4½
Travis, age 20
Negative—This film provided me with my most boring movie experience so far this year. Neither myself or my wife had any idea what was going on in the hopelessly convoluted and confused plot. We hung on bravely, hoping all would be revealed at the end, but were left more confused than ever. Please save your money and do not go and see this time-wasting, pretentious piffle!
My Ratings: Offensive / 1
D A Littlewood, age 58
Negative—I came away from this movie wandering why in the world I just paid to watch it. I was patient with it for the first hour, with all the side stories and character introductions. But I felt like I should be taking notes. There were way too many things going on here, and in the end only a few of them came together. Don’t get me wrong, I like depth in a movie. It did have a couple of the story lines that were easy to follow, like the young boy turned suicide bomber, and the Prince not getting the “throne.” If you want to be entertained, don’t go see this movie. From my Christian viewpoint, I was only offended by the language. The torture scenes aren’t for everyone, especially youngsters. If you must see this movie, wait to rent it. That way you can watch it about 5 times, and figure it all out.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4½
Jeff, age 25
Negative—…a confusing mish-mosh of plots, sub-plots and sub-sub plots thrown together without apparent reason. We were about 45 minutes into the film before anything began to jell at all. I spent the bulk of my adult life in media—radio, television and print—and I know a good film when I see it. This ain’t one. The movie is an ego trip for the director, a huge “inside joke” played on the audience by the oh-so-“intelligent” (make that sophomoric) Hollywood crowd. That this film won any awards is a monument to the world of unreality in which Hollywood lives. It could have been a great story without being a literary/video slurry. Unfortunately, Hollywood seems to think that anything that doesn’t insult the average viewer is not worth producing. This film insults the average viewer, and was not worth producing.
My Ratings: Average / 3
Scott Hessek, age 65
Negative—I found the film very disturbing. The scenarios are depressing, upsetting, graphic, horrific—nothing I would find otherwise “entertaining.” Do not expect any type of Hollywood “happy ending.” The theme seemed over-simplified to portray the US, the CIA, and big-oil companies as essentially completely evil with respect to the Middle East. Very political and not necessarily accurate in its scope of “connections.” I reassured myself upon leaving the theatre that I serve a Sovereign God who brings hope and light and peace to the world! This film contains nothing of that message.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 4
Emily, age 32
Negative—This film could be used by Al Qaeda for recruiting. It could also dispirit Americans and cause them to mistrust our government loose moral clarity about what we’re sacrificing blood and treasure to accomplish at this very moment. I walked out when the story had the CIA blow up the one Arab leader (and his innocent family) who had his country’s best interest at heart (democracy, women’s rights, economic infrastructure, etc.) but would’ve moved US troops out. It’s Tokyo Rose with all the skill of the Hollywood craft. It stinks. …Evil: US Government / Evil: Oil Companies / Evil: Conservative politicians (known by the American flag on their lapels) / Duped: Oil-rich Emirs / Duped: Formerly patriotic CIA field agent who finally realizes the truth (see above) / Duped: Financial consultant to Oil-rich Emirs son / Sympathetic: Young man who gets radicalized by Islamic terrorists (and no wonder they want to kill us).
My Ratings: Offensive / 3
Leo, age 56
Negative—First lets start out by saying as a Christian I was not offended by the language of the movie only by how boring the movie was. Very few swear or cursing words. If you are offended by the language in this movie I would suggest staying at home and not venturing out in public. The most disturbing scene involved a 6-year child. In my opinion, the finger nail pulling scene was not as bad as some of the earlier reviewers suggested. Finger nails will grow back, the 6-year old will not. Let’s also say I am not a movie producer, therefore I could care less about the “movie making quality,” and I’m more concerned if I am going to enjoy the movie, is it going to entertain me, is it going keep my attention, am I going to walk out of the movie and say “wow that was a good movie” or say “I can’t believe I just spent two hours of my life sitting through that movie”? This movie fell under “I can’t believe I just spent two hours of my life sitting through that movie.” You keep waiting for the movie to get going. I was told you have to pay attention in order to follow the movie, so I was ready and did not have a problem following the movie, I was only sorry that I spent the effort. The “movie making quality” may be good but overall entertainment value was pathetic.
My Ratings: Average / 1
Lanny, age 38
Negative—This film portrays the oil industry as a group of amoral bullies, driven only by greed. As someone who has been involved at all levels of the oil industry I testify that this is a false generalization. Many people in that industry, perhaps the majority, are bible-believing Christians who live out their faith, even if they have some failings like all of us do. The other target of the film is the whole idea of America, and specifically our government leaders, in that we are corrupt and hypocritical. I have been with some of our top leaders when they were discussing national or world problems in situations where their extensive comments were private and out of the spotlight. The great majority of them take their jobs seriously, and are doing the best they can to make proper decisions, much they way you or I would if we were suddenly thrust into a position of authority on that level. They are concerned not only for the welfare of US citizens, but also for the entire world. This is not to say that they always make the right decisions, but they really are trying to do so.

I know a number of middle-level staffers within the US Government as well, and while they might occasionally let us down by covering their behinds or fueling their ambition (they are human afterall), they also are fundamentally moral people trying to do their best, not casually setting up their friends, or intentionally letting down the citizens in issues of international importance.

Some of the scenes were almost comical if this were not so serious a subject. The scene where trusty “Dr. Bashir of Star Trek,” the Emir’s “good son,” is earnestly telling a group that Islam has always wanted to give women equal rights and stature, although “foreign influences” have kept that from happening—Wow! Then his brother the evil son gets military help from the US to kill the good son along with his family, so we can confirm our hold on his country’s oil, and keep his country’s people indirectly under our thumb. If the US did such things, don’t you think we could be a little more direct? We have the military power to openly grab whatever Emirates we desire, regardless of what anyone else thinks—excuses or cover-ups are unnecessary. But we don’t behave this way because, contrary to the movie’s message, that is not who we are. Our behavior in the Middle East, as elsewhere, may be imperfect, but (thanks to God’s grace on an imperfect people who unfortunately indeed are morally worse off than we were 50 years ago) we are still the guy wearing the white hat.

Hollywood, you are a liar and a disgrace. You misrepresented this movie in the ads, and sucked me into paying admission to an Al Qaeda propaganda film.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 2
Bill Marscher, age 57
Movie Critics
…Mosaic of Middle East geopolitics is at once too simplistic yet plot-wise too convoluted…
The Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt
…Syri-ously dangerous philosophy… Very strong humanist, socialist, politically correct worldview with very strong anti-capitalist and Anti-American content that demonizes big oil companies and the U.S. government…
…Cynical, explosive and smart, smart, smart…
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Eleanor Ringel Gillespie
…extremely ambitious but not so satisfying…
E! Online
…what ‘Syriana’ forgets to provide is the one thing that makes any movie, however difficult, easy to love: emotional empathy…
Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum