AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Summary View of Movie
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Syriana
Director: Stephen Gaghan (Dir)
Release Date:   23 Nov 2005
Duration (in mins):  122 or 127-128
Print this page
Display Movie Detail


Cast: Kayvan Novak  (Arash)
  George Clooney  (Bob Barnes)
  Amr Waked  (Mohammed Sheik Agiza)
 

Summary: In Tehran, Iran, CIA agent Bob Barnes, on a covert mission to assassinate two Iranian arms dealers, lures them into a trap by offering to sell them two Stinger missiles. Unknown to Bob, the dealers already have sold one of the missiles to militant fundamentalist Mohammed Sheik Agiza. At a deserted café, as Bob exhibits his wares to the dealers, the gun-wielding Agiza suddenly appears to claim the missile, and when Bob objects, Agiza takes the weapon by force. Meanwhile, in Georgetown, D.C., Dean Whiting, the head of a prestigious law firm hired by giant Connex Oil to ensure that the corporation's proposed merger with Killen Oil will be approved by the Justice Department, charges Bennett Holiday, an ambitious black attorney who works at the firm, with the responsibility of investigating how Killen, a small Texas oil company headed by Jimmy Pope, won the drilling rights to the lucrative fields in Kazakhstan. The approval of the merger is critical to Connex, which lost its long-held rights to drill in an oil-rich Persian emirate when the country’s foreign minister, Prince Nasir Al-Subaai, the son and heir of Emir Hamed Al-Subaai, awarded the rights to the higher bid of the People’s Republic of China. As a result of the company’s loss of its drilling rights in the Persian Gulf, Connex lays off the legion of Pakistani immigrants who have left their country to work in the oil fields. Among those affected are Wasim Ahmed Khan and his father Saleem, who despite the bleakness of his prospects, still dreams of bringing his wife from Pakistan to live with them. Upon returning to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Bob rankles his superiors by sending memos regarding the urgency of finding the missing missile, a loss that, if publicized, could cause untold problems for the agency. To silence Bob, the agency decides to promote him to a desk job as head of the Iran Bureau, but Bob sabotages his job interview by criticizing the reform movement in Iran and its relationship with the Committee to Liberate Iran, the CLI, a group of powerful U.S. businessmen bent on overthrowing the fundamentalist government of Iran to gain control of the country’s oil fields. Because the CIA is also concerned about U.S. interests in the region, Bob's superior at the CIA sends Bob to assassinate Nasir, lying that Nasir has been funding the purchase of weapons to be used against the U.S. Before leaving, Bob meets with his college-age son Robby, who resents the rootless life his government agent parents have foisted upon him as a result of their work with the CIA. At the Emir’s estate in Marbella, Spain, Bryan Woodman, an analyst at an energy trading company in Geneva, arrives with his wife Julie and young sons Max and Riley. The Emir has invited Bryan to delineate his company’s proposition for maximizing the resources of the oil field. Disappointed when he discovers he will not be meeting with the Emir, but rather his emissaries, Bryan puts forth stale ideas that the emissaries have heard many times before. As night falls, the lights in the estate’s pool switch on, triggering an undetected short in the wiring. Soon after, Bryan’s son Max jumps into the water and is electrocuted. Max’s death wrenches apart the Woodman family, and Bryan finds himself estranged from his wife and other son and unable to function in his job. In the emirate, Wasim and his father are unable to find jobs and consequently are forced to report to immigration, where they are pushed and clubbed into submission by members of the military, who despise the Pakistani outsiders. In Washington, Bennett learns from Donald Farish III, his former law professor who is now an assistant attorney general, that the Justice Department has proof that Killen paid off someone for the rights to the Kazakhstan oil fields. Bennett, who knows his future with the firm depends on his uncovering any Killen improprieties, is being pressured by Whiting to find the person who served as the conduit for the bribe. Later, Whiting, determined to overturn the Chinese oil deal, visits the Emir’s younger son, Prince Meshal Al-Subaai. Meshal, who values his yachts and horses more than the welfare of his people, welcomes Whiting’s offer to assure his ascendancy to the throne in exchange for restoring Connex’s drilling rights. Meanwhile, Wasim, his face bruised from the beating, finds solace in the words of a cleric who teaches at the madrassa, or fundamentalist Islamic school. With his friend Farooq, Wasim listens as the cleric preaches that the Koran provides an antidote to the failures of Western liberal society. Later, Agiza approaches Wasim and Farooq at the school and recruits them to be suicide bombers. Feeling guilty for Max’s death, Prince Nasir, a compassionate ruler bent on reforming his country’s moribund oil economy, invites Bryan to Mecca to offer his firm the rights to develop a parcel of the oil field. Alienated and disillusioned, Bryan denounces the deal as stupid and accuses the emirate of squandering its wealth. When Nasir acknowledges Bryan’s criticism and asks his opinion, Bryan proposes that the country could save middle-man costs by building pipelines rather than transporting its oil on tankers. Impressed, Nasir later appoints Bryan to be his economic advisor. In Beirut, Bob contacts his field agent, Mussawi, to arrange for Nasir’s assassination. Bryan and Nasir also have come to Beirut on business, and their paths cross Bob's when they share a hotel elevator with him. After going to his room, Bob watches as Mussawi’s men arrive to kidnap Nasir. Instead of going to Nasir’s room, however, the men burst into Bob’s room, bind him with duct tape and shove him into a body bag, which they toss into their car trunk. Later, Bob is tethered to a chair in a grimy room, where Mussawi, who, unknown to Bob, has betrayed the CIA and now works for Iran, threatens to torture Bob unless he reveals the names of the people he has bribed over the course of his career. When Bob refuses, Mussawi pulls out his fingernails and is about to behead him when a representative from Said Hossein Hashimi, the head of Hezbollah who has guaranteed Bob’s safety in Beirut, suddenly appears and orders Bob freed. Bob revives from his ordeal and finds himself in the now-deserted room, while at the madrassa, Agiza shows Farooq and Wasim the stolen Stinger missile and demonstrates how to arm it. When Mussawi circulates the story that the CIA sent Bob to assassinate Nasir, the CIA decides to portray Bob as a rogue agent in order to debunk Mussawi’s accusation. After poring through mountains of files concerning Killen’s business deals, Bennett finally comes upon a wire transfer to an elite school in Switzerland attended by the children of a Kazakhstan official. Because the transfer was signed by Danny Dalton, a Texas oilman working with Danny Pope, and a member of the CLI, Bennett realizes that the document could appease the Justice Department by proving an illegal money link between Killen and Kazakhstan. Bennett then goes to inform his superior, Sydney Hewitt, Connex’s Washington counsel, who is attending a meeting of the CLI. Although they are relieved that in Dalton, they have found a scapegoat to end the Justice Department’s investigation into the merger, Connex president Tommy Barton and the other oil executives firmly believe that business feeds on corruption. In the Gulf, Nasir and Bryan’s dream of reform is derailed when Meshal and Whiting convince the Al-Subaai cousins to sue the Emir, demanding that he appoint Meshal as the new ruler, because Meshal will invalidate the Chinese contract and reinstate the oil rights to Connex. Bennett’s success at the law firm is also jeopardized when Farish informs him that the Justice Department will not approve the merger until they can indict a major executive at Connex or Killen, thus providing an illusion of due diligence on their part. Increasingly disillusioned by the cynicism of government and business, Bennett begins to understand why his father, whom he holds in contempt, has given up on the system and turned into a hopeless alcoholic. Upon returning to the United States, Bob is stonewalled by his superiors and denied access to CIA files and has his passport seized as he discovers that his loyalty is being questioned. Feeling betrayed, Bob visits Stan Goff, a former colleague at the CIA who became disillusioned with the agency and left to become an independent consultant. Stan, who has been looking into Bob’s betrayal by the CIA, explains that the CIA wants to eliminate Nasir because they are worried that he will not allow U.S. military bases in his country. Stan also reveals that the CIA has teamed with Whiting to ensure that Meshal, rather than Nasir, will be the new Emir. Outraged by his government’s collusion with big business to impact the political course of a country, Bob confronts Whiting, who coolly informs him that he has been used and lied to during his entire career at the agency. As Bob flies back to the emirate to warn Nasir, Nasir and Bryan meet with the emirate’s generals to convince them to support Nasir over Meshal. When the generals throw their support behind Nasir, a motorcade containing Nasir and his supporters drives to the palace to stop Meshal’s coronation. Bob, meanwhile, who has learned of the proceedings, tries to intercept Nasir along the highway before the CIA can assassinate him. In Texas, when Bennett informs Pope that the government approval of the merger depends on the indictment of a major oil official, Pope, aware that if the government investigation continues, they all could be indicted, decides to scapegoat Hewitt for making an illegal financial deal related to the merger. Meanwhile, after being informed by Agiza that the time has come for his suicide mission, Wasim goes to say goodbye to his father, who is unaware he will never see his son again. At the Connex-Killen loading facility in the Gulf, Connex executives celebrate the return of their company to the region. At the same time, CIA officials are monitoring Nasir’s motorcade on their spy satellite, and when they see the Bob’s vehicle speeding to intercept Nasir, they program a remote-controlled missile to home in on Nasir’s car. Just as Bob manages to stop the motorcade and reach Nasir’s car, the missile is triggered, rendering Nasir’s car into a pile of rubble and killing Nasir, his wife, his children and Bob. Bryan, who was being driven in a separate car, watches the conflagration in horror. At that moment, Bennett, Pope and Whiting are attending a tribute to Leland Janus, the CEO of Connex, who thanks Meshal, the new Emir, and acknowledges him as one of “Connex’s strategic friends.” In the Gulf, Wasim and Farooq arm their missile and aim their fishing boat directly at a Connex oil tanker. Afterward, the students at the Islamic school watch the video Wasim made before committing suicide, in which he declares “the next world is the true life.” As Bryan returns home to his wife and son, Bob’s files at his CIA office are being readied for storage. Upon returning home, Bennett finds his father waiting on the doorstep, and for the first time in his life, shows compassion for the old man. 

Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Participant Productions
Section Eight
4M Film
Director: Stephen Gaghan (Dir)
  Martin Kenzie (Dir, 2d aerial unit)
  Peter Bennett (1st asst dir, 2d aerial unit)
  Simon Warnock (1st asst dir)
  Rami Hyasin (1st asst dir, Dubai unit)
  Ahmed Hatimi (1st asst dir, Morocco unit)
  Alison Rosa (2d asst dir)
  Adrian Toynton (2d asst dir)
  Henry Tomlinson (2d asst dir, 2d aerial unit)
  Yann Mari Faget (2d asst dir, Morocco unit)
  Darwin Brooks (3rd asst dir, Overseas)
  Tarik Ait Ben Ali (3rd asst dir, Overseas)
  Kate Carver (3rd asst dir, 2d aerial unit)
  Pierre Lacourt (3rd asst dir, Geneva unit)
  Richard Goodwin (2d 2d asst dir, Overseas)
  Eric A. Pot (2d 2d asst dir, USA)
  Julian M. Brain (2d 2d asst dir, USA)
Producer: Jennifer Fox (Prod)
  Michael Nozik (Prod)
  Georgia Kacandes (Prod)
  George Clooney (Exec prod)
  Steven Soderbergh (Exec prod)
  Ben Cosgrove (Exec prod)
  Jeff Skoll (Exec prod)
  Sarah Bradshaw (Assoc prod)
  Elizabeth Kirkscey (Assoc prod)
  Shannon Lail (Assoc prod)
Writer: Stephen Gaghan (Wrt)

Subject Major: Assassination
  Betrayal
  Business ethics
  Fathers and sons
  Lawyers
  Middle East
  Muslims
  Oilmen
  Persian Gulf
  Political corruption
  United States. Central Intelligence Agency
 
Subject Minor: African Americans
  Ambition
  Americans in foreign countries
  Beirut (Lebanon)
  Bribery
  Disillusionment
  Drowning
  Electrocution
  Guilt
  Immigrants
  Nationalism
  Oil refineries
  Oil tankers
  Passports
  Religiosity
  Religious schools
  Sheiks
  Suicide
  Terrorists and terrorism
  Torture
  Washington (D.C.)

Display Movie Detail
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
Advanced Search
AFI Membership
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film

© 2014 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.