The one interesting subversive point it makes -- PLEASE TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW -- i.e, that the government of the USA, in cohoots with oil companies, is only willing to protect its dependence and profit from oil without caring one whit for the improvement of conditions in the region, gets completely lost among the jumping around between unnecessary characters and their jerky, globetrotting ways.
Stephen Gaghan's insistence on writing a puzzle instead of a coherent, eloquent script does not serve the movie well. The moviegoer is supposed to fill in for all the huge gaps in believability and coherence and in the end, everything is so farfetched that nothing in the movie is remotely credible.
A great cast is mostly squandered on underwritten, schematic parts. There are a few cringe-inducing speeches, particularly the reformist young sheik's, who sounds like the neocons wet dream: oh, all he wants is to democratize society, give women the vote (!) and create an oil exchange... puhleeze! Or Tim Blake Nelson's impassioned, completely fake defense of corruption. This stuff is so obvious that it offends the intelligence of the audience.
The movie is filled with clichés. The oilmen, most of them sporting thick Texas drawls, are evil incarnate. How about an oilman with a heart of gold, for a change?
Also, can we agree that two men playing sweaty squash as a metaphor for "power game" is quite old hat?
George Clooney is the best reason to watch this film. He looks suitably worldweary as a CIA agent. It is a great, understated performance that does wonders with very little. The otherwise very talented Jeffrey Wright seems to be at a loss as to what exactly his character is supposed to be doing, and why he has a father who is a drunk. Is it because he is the only black character in the film?
A much more satisfying, eloquent and elegant movie about our current disgruntlement with the status quo is Clooney's own Good Night and Good Luck. It is a small, effective, chilling fable about how the media has abandoned its independence and has forsaken content altogether. It has less pyrotechnics and much more backbone than Syriana.