"From writer/director Stephen Gaghan, winner of the Best Screenplay Academy Award for 'Traffic,' comes 'Syriana,' a political thriller that unfolds against the intrigue of the global oil industry. From the players brokering back-room deals in Washington to the men toiling in the oil fields of the Persian Gulf, the film's multiple storylines weave together to illuminate the human consequences of the fierce pursuit of wealth and power." http://movies.yahoo.com
The opening scene takes place in Tehran, Iran. Bob Barnes (George Clooney) is at a party, drinking and socializing with the people around him. His language skills are perfect, so he has no problem understanding people in foreign countries. He talks with two men, and asks them where they want to do the deal. Next, we see Barnes with the two men in an empty building. Barnes has two cases with him. Each case holds a missile/rocket, and Barnes puts a battery in each one to show that they work. The men give him some money, and they place one case in another room while taking the other one to their car outside to load. Barnes is confused, since he thought that they were going to have both of them. They tell him to mind his own business and go outside. Barnes goes into the other room where he sees that the other case is already being transported out of there. A man pulls a gun, and Barnes talks to him in Farsi. He realizes that the man doesn't know the language, and the man goes away. Barnes walks outside the building while passing the two men from the deal, who are fooling around with the case while trying to get it into the car. The two men get into the car. The car explodes as Barnes walks away as if nothing happened.
Next, we see a bunch of oil workers in the Middle East lose their jobs. If they do not find work in the near future, they will be deported back to their native country. Wasim (Mazhar Munir) and his father walk away from the oil plant with their fellow fired workers. Wasim's father looks on the brighter side of things and talks about how many opportunities there were in their native home of Pakistan. Wasim however is not so happy to lose his job, but listens to his father's words with thought.
In the United States of America, two big oil companies are going to merge together: Connex and Killen. This happens to be the reason why Wasim was laid off from his job. Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer), an oil tycoon, hires Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) to investigate how the smaller oil company managed to get rights to apparently untouched oil fields in Kazakhstan. Jimmy Pope (Chris Cooper) is part of the smaller oil company, and does not approve of the merger or of Holiday's presence. Holiday seems to not get as much respect as his associates, but he can still get the job done. When Holiday comes home from a hard day's work, he sees an older man sitting on his porch. Holiday leaves the door open for the man, who comes inside and helps himself to some food and a cigarette. This man is Holiday's father, who's a drunk. He usually finds his way to Holiday's home frequently and he doesn't approve of his son's job.
In Switzerland, we are introduced to Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), who's a successful energy consultant. He lives with his wife Julie (Amanda Peet) and his two young boys. It's dinner time, and the boys ask if they can have real meat to eat for breakfast (the bacon they have is made from tofu or something). The family laughs about this. At work, Woodman's boss approaches him in ! his office. He tells him about an Emir in the Middle East, and how he's extremely wealthy in the oil business with his two princes, Nasir (Alexander Siddig) and Meshal (Akbar Kurtha). It would benefit Woodman's company if they did business with this royal family, and he asks Woodman to go to a party that the Emir is holding at his palace. Woodman says that he can't, because it is his son's birthday. His boss tells him that he can take his family, and so the Woodmans go to the party. Bryan's kids socialize just fine with the other kids there, and all the kids play around in the pool located on the estate.
We see senior members of the CIA talking about their agent, Bob Barnes. It seems that Barnes keeps on writing memos on the missing missile/rocket, and his superiors don't like this. They say that no one wants to hear about a missing weapon during this time, so they decide to try and silence him by offering him a desk job. Barnes goes to the interview, where the interviewer asks him about his experiences in Beirut (apparently, he did some mission there or something). Barnes is not too vocal, and the interviewer asks him about his opinions of the Middle East and what should be done. The interview is obviously not in Bob's favor, so they cut him short. Barnes then tells them that he actually likes the Middle East and how he doesn't like how everyone perceives that place in a supremely negative light. He finds himself at ease over there more so than he does in the US. Later, Barnes meets up with his college student son for lunch. Barnes thinks that maybe his son should move back closer to home and go to a local college. His son has other ideas and doesn't want to. During this conversation we find that Barnes is divorced.
Wasim and his friends fool around in the desert and hang out. They talk about how hard it is to find a job, but they keep their spirits up with jokes and whatnot. Later, we see Wasim trying to find a job on a ship. He even offers to work for free, and will be willing to do any job. The employer, however, tells him that there's a long list "just for that job". Wasim then tries to go to a government building, wh! ere he hopes to get some help in finding a job. There's a long line to get in though, and everyone is ordered to stay orderly in line. After his father talks too loud and is unruly in line, his father and Wasim are perceived as a problem and are beaten by the soldiers outside with batons.
Back at the Emir's party, Woodman waits patiently to talk to the king about a proposition for his company. The king is still in a meeting with some Asian men, and Prince Meshal seems busy trying to impress these men with his electronics and how fancy the palace is. Meshal shows that he can control everything with a remote control, and puts on the lights outside since it is getting dark. When he tries to put on the pool lights though, something's wrong because they won't come on. That's when we see that lights in the pool are cracked, but electricity is still going through them. The kids at the party want to play a game (its basically tag but in water). They want one of Woodman's sons to be the 'it' person, so he has to get in the pool first. Woodman is greeted inside by some men who represent the Emir, and they tell him that the king cannot meet with him but would still like to hear his proposition. Woodman tells the men the prop, but is put off by not talking to the Emir (he gives them his business card, though). He walks outside where he hears screaming coming from Julie. Their son is in the darkened pool, and he's not moving. The royal family shuts off the power to the palace and Woodman jumps into the pool and takes his son out. Bryan and Julie scream for a doctor/help, but they find that it's too late - their son is dead. He was electrocuted when he went into the pool.
Holiday continues his investigation with the merger and the oil rights to Kazakhstan. He gets to spend some time getting to know Jimmy Pope from an afternoon hunting session. It's during this time that Holiday meets Danny Dalton (Tim Blake Nelson), someone working in Pope's oil business. Back to Barnes, the CIA still want him to stop writing memos. One of the people worried about Barnes memos is his superior friend, Fred Franks (Thomas McCarthy). Without options, they decide to send him out into the field again just to get his mind off of the missing weapon. They tell Barnes about Prince Nasir, who they say has money in dark places that could be used for terrorism against the US. They want Barnes to find out what Nasir is up to, and send him off. Barnes uses an old contact from Beirut, a man by the name of Mussawi (Mark Strong). Mussawi is not the man's original name, and Barnes keeps on calling him his old name, which gets Mussawi pissed at him. Barnes wants him to kidnap Prince Nasir, put him in a car, and drive across the desert with him. Mussawi gets idea that this is about killing Nasir (even though Barnes just wants to find out where his money is going), and leaves after agreeing to help.
The Woodman's bury their child. Bryan and Julie try to remain strong with their surviving son. One night, Bryan finds that his son can't fall asleep. His son wants to look out the window, and so Bryan looks out the window with his son all night. Woodman breaks down at his job, but gets a call from Prince Nasir. Woodman flies back to the Middle East and tries to keep his feelings under control. He checks into a hotel and talks with Julie, saying how hot/humid it is down there. Julie sounds concerned, but Woodman assures her that he's okay. He talks about how the culture is over there (the woman cover themselves completely, the men wear spotless white clothing). Later on, he meets up with Nasir who takes him to the desert where they talk business. Nasir offers to cut Woodman's company into his oil business, a cut that would be around 75 million dollars or so. Woodm! an says "great, now how much for my other kid? bluntly bringing to the surface that Nasir is only cutting them in because of Woodman's loss. Woodman then tells him that he could maximize Nasir's profits by being his consultant. Nasir hires him as his consultant, and the first thing Woodman recommends is building an oil pipe-line.
During this time, we see Wasim and his friends joining an Islamic extremist group, who welcome them in as brothers and provide them with food. They also provide them with work, which keeps them from being deported. The leaders lecture on how the West has failed, and how they care so much for oil. One day, Wasim and his friends are become friends with a man who tells them that there is another group within this Islamic group that might be more suitable to their needs. He takes Wasim and one of friends one day through a field to a shack, promising to show them "something cool". What he shows them is the missing case from the beginning, with the weapon inside. This man is the same man who couldn't speak Farsi (he held the gun to Barnes at the beginning). He puts the battery in, and explains that they should be careful around it. He then tells them that it's nearly impossible to hit anything with it.
Holiday finds out that corruption was part of the deal between the smaller oil company and Kazakhstan, He tells his superiors that Danny Dalton was involved, and that he plans on bringing Dalton up on corruption charges. Pope thinks this is hypocritical and wrong, since he personally saw a check made out to Holiday's company from a foreign country (and this was obviously corruption as well). Holiday's superior just tells Pope that the company under investigation is Pope's, not his.
Barnes meanwhile follows around Prince Nasir, who has Woodman in his company. While checking into the hotel that Nasir is staying at, Barnes goes to the elevator to find Nasir, Woodman, and two bodyguards standing in it. Nasir orders his men to make room for Barnes. Nasir makes small talk with Barnes, who te! lls the prince that he is Canadian. Barnes shortly leaves. He has lunch outside where Nasir is talking with Woodman and some of his men. Near the hotel, we see a worker open a back door for three men (these are the men who Barnes hired to kidnap Nasir). After Nasir goes up to his room, Barnes goes to his own room and looks out the window upon Nasir. The three men are hiding in Barnes' room, and they kidnap him by taping his mouth shut and rolling him up in a bag. They take him to the car and drive away.
Barnes wakes up in an old bathroom. Mussawi enters and asks Barnes what type of torture he would like: the Chinese water torture, his arm being broken and his face forced into his own feces, or having his fingernails removed. From the way Barnes is tied to the chair, with his hands tied flatly to a piece of wood across his lap, it's clear that Barnes is going to get the third torture. Apparently, Mussawi used to work for the CIA but has switched sides to Iran. He wants to know why the CIA wants to kill Prince Nasir. Barnes doesn't know what he's talking about. Mussawi then proceeds to rip off his fingernails one by one. Mussawi has to splash Barnes with water to keep him from passing out. He gets frustrated because Barnes won't talk, so he beats him up with his own bare hands. He says angrily, We are at war! You are a POW! Talk! He grabs a blade and prepares to decapitate Barnes when Mussawis superior comes in. He's not happy with what's going on, and having a dead CIA agent is not good news for Iran. He orders Mussawi to stop, and they all leave Barnes in the room, beaten and bloody. Barnes eventually wakes up and goes to a hospital, where CIA agents are sure that he spilled the beans on what's going on with Nasir. The CIA learn of Mussawi's involvement, and learn that he is planning on going public with the news that the CIA is trying to kill Nasir. The CIA decides to cut Barnes loose and leave him out to dry alone, claiming that he was acting out of his own agenda and that he is being investigated for the Tehran incident.
Wasim and his friends watch a video of a man talking about the event of his death, and what should be done. Elsewhere, Holiday confronts Danny Dalton with the corruption charges in broad daylight (while in public), which upsets Dalton greatly. He tells Holiday that corruption is how the country "wins". It keeps everything in check and safe. The only reason why they made laws against corruption is so that they can get away with it. Holiday starts to get a sense of what's really going on and leaves.
We briefly see a scene where Prince Meshal is celebrating his birthday on an expensive yacht. In attendance are several oil businessmen, including Whiting. When Whiting asks Meshal what he wants, Meshal laughs and says that he doesnt know. Whiting gets after him for being so childish, ! and says that his brother Nasir will become the new Emir if Meshal is not careful. So he again asks Meshal what he wants, though this time more sternly and more overt in the answer he wants (he wants Meshal to want Nasir dead).
Woodman talks with his wife in a park while their son plays on the playground. Bryan tells Julie about his new job, and how he's moving up in the business world. Since he's working for Nasir, he's going to get rich very quickly because Nasir is steadily becoming an influential figure. Julie asks him how it feels to profit off of the death of their son. Bryan tries to reason his actions and reactions, but she's had enough. Julie is going to move back to the U.S. with their son. Bryan will stay behind with his job, since that's all that he cares about anymore.
Speaking of which, the Emir has announced which prince shall take the throne - it will be Prince Meshal. Nasir is obviously not happy with this, and expresses his anger towards this decision. He then gets into a discussion with Woodman about what the modern world thinks of the Middle East. According to Woodman, they think that oil is running out and that the majority of it lies in the Middle East. Nasir talks about how he accepted a Chinese offer for oil (and turned down a major American oil company), and how he was going to use the money to help his country and its people. He wants to give women the right to vote, help his people out of poverty, and not spend money on lavish things (obviously Meshal is going to do the opposite of these things). Woodman encourages Nasir to fight for his right to be the new Emir, especially since it is more logical than choosing Meshal and the people prefer him over his playboy brother.
Holiday is called from work to pick up his drunk father at a bar. He takes him back to his place to stay. Holiday later on goes for a jog and talks to some oil businessmen about the way things work (i.e. corruption again). Holiday returns home to find his father again sitting outside, waiting for him to come home. His father is angry at him about his job, and storms off. Holiday follows for a little bit and yells that he doesnt want him coming back to his home anymore.
Barnes goes back to work and finds that he is refused access when he tries to gain information on Nasir. All the computers in his entire office come up with a message saying that he is being investigated. Barnes confronts Fred Franks ! at his home, asking why he's being investigated. Franks tells Barnes that he shouldn't even be talking to him, but tells him that he should take care of himself. We see that Barnes is being followed everywhere he goes. Barnes meets up with another CIA contact, Stan (William Hurt), who tells him that it was Whiting who was responsible for Barnes to be a scapegoat for the CIA. Whiting was ex-CIA, now current oil tycoon.
Barnes eventually comes to meet with Whiting in a public place, where Barnes threatens Whiting's family unless he gets back his passports. Through and after this meeting, Barnes has figured out what is happening and heads on a plane to the Middle East to meet up with Nasir.
Meanwhile, Pope tells Holiday that taking down Dalton for corruption charges won't be enough. He would need someone else, maybe someone "higher up in the food chain", maybe like one of Holiday's superiors. He agrees, and confronts one of his superiors with a corruption charge before a banquet is held celebrating the merging of the oil companies. Holiday then lets the charges against his superior and Dalton slide, since it would ruin Holidays job (his superiors would fire him if he went through with it). Thus the merger will go through as planned.
Wasim and one of his friends are selected by the Islamic group to undergo a mission. They are deemed "ready". Wasim comes across his father playing baseball in a field. He asks his father for some bus money. His father gives it to him, and Wasim hugs his father before walking away. His father looks concerned for his son. We see Nasir and Woodman with several generals and other personnel. They are all in support of Nasir staging an overthrow of power to claim the throne as Emir. Also in attendance is Nasir's family. Everyone gets into jeeps and start to drive across the desert for the coup. Woodman rides in the car containing Nasir. A man who saw the caravan leave calls someone and tells him what car Nasir is in. Next, ! we see the CIA is watching the motorcade through satellite, and are going to assassinate him (because he's going to overthrow his brother). Fred Franks is the CIA agent in charge of the operation. We also see that Barnes has arrived in the Middle East, is driving through the desert, trying to find his way to Nasir.
The celebration of the merger of Connex and Killen has commenced. Nasir's motorcade comes across some sheep in the middle of the road, and due to custom they stop their vehicles and must wait until the sheep move out of the way. While stopped, Nasir spends time with his family and plays with his kids. Barnes drives recklessly through the desert, desperate to find Nasir. We see a small celebration happening on an oil plant at sea. We also see Wasim and other Islamic extremists driving boats out near the plant in the ocean. The animals move out of the road, and Woodman (who saw Nasir play with his kids and remembering his own family) suggests that maybe Nasir should ride with family while he gets in another vehicle. Woodman and Nasir's family switch places in cars, and the CIA agents see this. Franks is a bit worried about this. Barnes eventually comes across the motorcade en route to the coup. He flags them down with a white cloth to get their attention. Franks sees this, but does not know who it is. Nasirs men pull their guns on Barnes, but he urges them that he is not a threat. They all stop their cars and keep their guns on Barnes, of who desperately pleads to talk to Nasir. Franks orders a CIA agent to fire, and he presses down on a button. Their weapon is coming quickly over several miles. Barnes makes his way to the side of Nasirs car, and Nasir makes e! ye contact with him. He remembers him from the elevator. He says, Youre the Canadian. Nasirs car violently explodes, killing Nasir, his family, and Barnes.
What Barnes figured out was that the CIA was going to assassinate Nasir because he was going to overthrow his brother. Meshal becoming the new Emir would keep things the same and Meshal is easy to please with expensive gifts. If Nasir were to become the new Emir, he would have reformed his country for the better and would have given exclusive oil rights to the Chinese. This would block out the US from their successful oil trade, and so by eliminating Nasir they ensure their ongoing oil trade along with the poverty of the Emirs nation. Something else to note is that the American oil company that Nasir turned down in favor of the Chinese is the bigger oil company involved in the merger that Holiday was investigating. The bigger oil company bought the smaller one to get the rights to Kazakhstan, and the CIA is apparently involved with the bigger oil company.
We see the happiness that all the oil tycoons and businessmen are sharing at the merger celebration. It is also at the celebration that Prince Meshal is officially welcomed as the new Emir. Franks and his CIA agents congratulate each other on a job w! ell done. Woodman gets out of his car bloodied and covered in dirt. His ears are bleeding, but he appears to be fine. He sees that the blast was so powerful that it created a crater in the ground. It also killed some generals who supported Nasir. Woodman leaves the caravan and walks across the desert towards the closest city. Wasim and the Islamic extremists are right next to the oil plant out at sea now. Wasims friend, whos steering the boat, breaks off from the rest and heads straight towards the oil plant. Wasim sits at the nose of the boat, and reveals the missing weapon that Barnes accidentally supplied them with from the beginning. He puts the battery in and switches it on. Wasim looks back at his friend and shares a moment before he turns around to meet his destiny. The boat crashes headfirst into the oil plant and the weapon explodes, destroying the oil plant and killing Wasim. Woodman returns home to his wife and son in the US. His son embraces him, but Julie and Bryan share an unsure look together. CIA agents clean out the office that Barnes had with them. We see Barnes smiling in a picture with the same people who would later kill him over oil. Holiday returns home from the merger party and sees his father waiting for him outside. Holiday welcomes him into his home.
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