Judging from the commercials, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is the story of Denzel Washington heroically saving a plane full of passengers from certain death, but the film’s barn-burning crash sequence is over by the 25-minute mark. What follows is an intense portrait of a self-destructive man in what seems like a death spiral.
In his superb documentary Looking for Richard, Al Pacino comments how hard it is for actors and audiences to keep straight all of the characters in Shakespeare’s historical plays. Watching Syriana, I kind of knew how he felt. This film is confusing and not because it’s badly written or any other fault of its own. It’s confusing because it’s about oil and politics, a subject that lends itself naturally to confusion.