Movies: A Thriller That Thinks

George Clooney plays a CIA agent caught in a tangled web of West and East, oil and Allah

Successful movie are, it's said, the ones whose story and appeal can be expressed in a single sentence. To summarize Syriana, writer-director Stephen Gaghan's drama about petro-politics, you would need a book the size of The 9/11 Commission Report. Hopscotching across the globe, packing enough plots for half a dozen thrillers, refusing easy judgments of its characters, the film has a worldview that is mature, synoptic, careworn--light-years from the standard Hollywood movie. The closest we can get to pegging Syriana in a phrase: it's smart.

Gaghan wrote the script for Traffic, whose three complex story lines director Steven Soderbergh helpfully tinted...

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