New on DVD: Syriana

"Syriana" is a cautionary tale about the occasional greasiness of America's oil dependence on the Middle East. It's also a cautionary tale about overly ambitious filmmaking. The movie, directed by Stephen Gaghan, is a jumble of four intersecting story lines: a Big Oil merger, the assassination of a reformist sheikh by an aging CIA operative (George Clooney), the ambitions of a young oil executive (Matt Damon), and the making of a suicide bomber. Each would have made a rich topic for its own full-length feature. Crammed together in a two-hour film, they become little more than snapshots (or in the case of the caricatured oil industry, bogeymen). Meanwhile, Gaghan's quick cuts and nonlinear timelines, used with much greater effect in "Traffic" (which he wrote), make things hard to follow. It's style standing in for substance, confusion for complexity. (For a good example of "less is more" in a geopolitical thriller, see Steven Spielberg's "Munich.") The filmmakers should be commended for taking on such an ambitious subject, but ultimately "Syriana" is snake oil passing itself off as the real thing. Extras: It's a dry well. Two 10-minute interviews with George Clooney and others are often repetitive. And for a movie that feels as if miles of celluloid were left on the cutting-room floor, there are a paltry three deleted scenes. Grade: C

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