For a film that boasts lots of stars and acting talent, Syriana is a rather more unorthodox thriller than we might expect. Set amid the world of oil trading and based on Robert Baer’s book, it follows Amirs, petroleum executives, senators, high profile lawyers, terrorists, and CIA agents as they engage each other in a global chess match where the tool is geographical instability and the prize is power. The result is a collage of intersecting plots that thrill on a variety of dramatic levels. Political machinations, corporate intrigue, religious extremism, cultural ambition, and personal tribulation all bound together with coherence and momentum.
An ambitious project to be sure but one that succeeds due to a tight script and intelligent directing which combine to give a story of such scale much focus while, at all times, giving the audience the benefit of the doubt. Nothing is spoon-fed here as every deal, negotiation, and conversation is veiled and approached at an angle. Much is left for the audience to work out, a tactic that encourages them to invest in the story. But what really defines Stephen Gaghan’s film is its overarching sense of realism. The plot is allowed to increment forward in a manner where little looks to be happening but where a lot feels like it is. A triumph of efficient directing where each character is embellished richly with a mere half-glance or dinner order. Back-room wheeling and dealing portrayed so incidentally that what would appear outlandish comes across as chillingly real.
And the cast contribute strongly too. George Clooney puts in an Oscar winning turn as a spy very much caught between two worlds and cultures, who is sent to Beirut on CIA business only to be frozen out when things go wrong. Jeffrey Wright is deviousness personified as the Washington lawyer asked by his sinister senior partner Christopher Plummer to take a closer look at a merger between two oil giants, one of which, is headed up by the always excellent Chris Cooper. A host of other top names and some talented newcomers fill out the lesser roles but it’s fair to say everybody plays second fiddle to the intricate plot. That it all plays towards a deeply moving and emotional crescendo is what precludes this almost experimental political burner from unravelling. Instead, it seems to cohere rather impressively and honestly around some unappetising home truths and leave everyone thinking. Impressive indeed.
Rating: The Good – 74.4 Genre: Sport, Drama Duration: 140 mins Director: Gary Ross Stars: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Elizabeth Banks
The timeless story of the “little horse that could” is given near mythological status here by writer/director Gary Ross and the perfect narration of Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough. Seabiscuit is the ultimate long-shot story given the physical qualities of the horse and unorthodox style of its rider Red Pollard. The fact that it’s all true makes it even more compelling. And compelling it is. This is the type of movie, like it or not, that will give you goose-bumps all over with a number of exquisitely-crafted scenes that will stay with you for a long time. Toby Maguire stars as Red and he does a decent job as the troubled jockey who forms a deep bond with the horse. Jeff Bridges is in top form as the wealthy businessman who finds his true calling in looking after troubled jockey and horse alike and Chris Cooper is magic in the role of the seasoned trainer. Perhaps the standout strength of the film is the sense of period and time passing which Ross evokes so powerfully. In this, he is aided by McCullough’s craggy almost epoch-defining narration that comes to life each time the story skips forward in time. This movie will unashamedly pull on the emotional chords but it does so in such a skillful way that you’ll forgive it ten times over. The writing, the directing, and the acting are so meticulous that you’re hostage to it from early on. So just give yourself over to it and enjoy the rewards.
Rating: The Good – 71.4 Genre: Action Thriller Duration: 119 mins Director: Doug Liman Screenplay: Tony Gilroy, W. Blake Herron Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper
Few movies have had such an impact on the action genre as Doug Liman’s kinetic adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s novel. Everything about The Bourne Identity had a new grittier edge to it from Tony Gilroy’s tech-savvy script, to the fast-paced documentary style direction, to Matt Damon’s austere portrayal of Jason Bourne. The film begins with said agent being found adrift in the sea. Suffering from amnesia, as Bourne attempts to piece back together his previous life he sets in motion a series of events which make him the target of his former agency. The supporting cast contribute to the pervading sense of über-authenticity just as much as Damon, Liman, and Gilroy with Franka Potente (as a German girl who gets caught up in Bourne’s escape) and Chris Cooper (as Bourne’s CO) doing particularly well. The action scenes were revolutionary for a Hollywood film of the time with the Parisian chase sequence easily ranking as one of the best car chases in movie history.