Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Peet, Chris Cooper
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Written for the screen by Stephen Gaghan, based in part on the non-fiction work of Robert Baer
Studio: Warner Home Video
Video: 2.4:1 1080p 16:9 HD transfer
Audio: Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, English & French; Dolby Digital Plus 2.0, Spanish
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Deleted scenes, Documentary “Weaving Reality into Drama;” “A Conversation with George Clooney;” “A Conversation with Matt Damon;” “Make a Change, Make a Difference;” Theatrical trailer
Length: 128 minutes
“Syriana” is not a film you can watch casually while sorting through mail or doing the NY Times crossword. If you blink, or attempt to have a conversation, you might miss an important piece of dialog that ties two of the complex sub-plots together. No, “Syriana” is a film that demands your undivided attention. And it deserves it.
The film explores the relationship between big oil companies and big governments (specifically the United States, and various real and imagined countries in the middle east). It is a fairly believable and well-researched piece, written and directed by Steven Gaghan (“Traffic”), based partially on the non-fiction writings of ex-CIA agent Robert Baer.
“Syriana” tells its tale from many perspectives, and with many independent, yet interwoven, characters and threads, such as the burnt-out CIA Agent Bob Barnes (based loosely on Bob Baer, played by George Clooney) who is just now beginning to wonder whether his years of patriotic actions have indeed been “for the best” and an enterprising young commodities analyst (Matt Damon) who sees an opportunity to rise above simple money matters by assisting in real reform in the middle east.
In addition to Clooney (who won best supporting actor Oscar for the role), and Damon, “Syriana” features a powerhouse ensemble cast including Chris Cooper, Christopher Plummer, Amanda Peet, Jeffrey Wright and Amr Waked, each of whom deliver strong performances and impart the story with a sympathetic human touch. “Syriana” is a gripping tale that will make you think twice before buying that gas-guzzling SUV.
The HD-DVD image is full of rich detail. From the sweeping desert vistas of the middle east, punctuated by monstrous oil refineries and electrical towers, to a back-room torture chamber in Lebanon, to the chambers of commerce and corruption in Washington, each scene is imbued with realistic detail through the help of the 1080p widescreen transfer. The image is a bit desaturated at times, with muted colors, but this appears to be intentional on Gaghan’s part to convey a sterile, impersonal feel. The HD-DVD conveys this effect well. The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1.
A complex “thought” piece like this needs to have clear dialog, so you can follow the various storylines. In this regard, the HD-DVD does not disappoint. The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack (French and English: 5.1, Spanish: 2.0) conveys the dialog in the center channel clearly and coherently, and handles the occasional gunshot and explosion deftly as well. Alexander Desplat’s darkly atmospheric score subtly reinforces the overall dark tone of the film, without being overpowering. Overall, a good sonic blend with no overt problems.
The extras are the same as those on the standard DVD. There are three deleted scenes, mostly fleshing out the relationship between Bob Barnes and his semi-estranged wife, and several documentary pieces that elaborate on how the director and principal actors felt about their roles and about telling the story itself. There’s also the ubiquitous theatrical trailer. All in all, decent extras but nothing special and nothing that really takes advantage of the features of the HD-DVD format.
It’s good to see that Warner is concentrating on important, well-made films for the HD-DVD format launch, rather than just eye and ear candy. The HD-DVD of Syriana will allow you to enjoy the film as the director intended on your large screen display or projector without those annoying DVD scan lines or artifacts. I just wish Warner would do more to take advantage of the HD-DVD format, by including interactive commentary, or at least something to differentiate it from the standard DVD release of the film. In any case, the quality of the video and audio transfers in comparison to the standard DVD release more than justifies the price premium. Recommended.
– Chris Boylan
from home theater specialist