Syriana [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Jarrod Baker & Noor Razzak (30th September 2008).
The Film

Eerily topical given the events of the past few weeks, "Syriana" paints a dark and cynical picture of American machinations in the Middle East.

The central theme of the film is that the United States, via its military and intelligence services, actively works on behalf of corporate interests to ensure that liberal democracies do NOT spring up in the oil-rich Gulf States, because regional stability would have a negative effect on oil company profits.

"Syriana" is already uncomfortable viewing, as it makes the Western audience complicit in the deliberate manipulation of Middle-Eastern politics. This is made even more uncomfortable given the context and the setting as much of the film takes place in Lebanon, specifically in Beirut and in "Hezbollah controlled areas". It's hard not to be continuously aware of the destruction being dealt to (and from) those areas right now.

Languidly paced and narrative-rich, "Syriana" requires some dedication to watch. If you've got a short attention span, or are after a quick action fix, this is not the film for you. For although the film is often excruciatingly tense, and while it is often brutally violent, it takes great care not to stylise or glamorise that violence, always depicting it as horrific and shocking.

Three major plot threads drive the film forward. The first follows Bob Barnes (George Clooney) an aging CIA operative, who is left by the Agency to be the scapegoat for a failed mission in Lebanon; a mission which failed through no fault of his. The second features Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) a scheming oil company lawyer who is working to ensure that a merger between to oil companies is successful, while fending off questioning from the Department of Justice regarding the propriety of the deal.
In the third, Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) an American economist, working for a Swiss firm which becomes the financial advisor to the pro-reform heir apparent to an unnamed Emirate; but only after his eldest son dies in a freak accident at the Emirate embassy.

Each of these plot threads is gripping and intense - and intensely detailed, with enough narrative packed in each one for a film of its own. "Syriana" gives the audience a lot more credit than your typical Hollywood thriller but that's probably because it's anything but typical. There is no black and white most of the characters operate in an amoral grey area. And rather than endless explaining the plot points, much of the film is left opaque, even after the credits roll. There's some stuff in there you're just not supposed to understand, certainly none of the characters have the full picture of what is going on.

"Syriana" is superbly cast, scripted and directed. If you like your films to be smart and to pull no punches, then this is the movie for you. Highly recommended.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 this image is delivered to viewers in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been mastered with VC-1 compression. This transfer is the same used for the US Blu-ray release. The image is impeccably sharp, Warners has a great track record with recent films and top notch transfer on DVD and this Blu-ray is among the best in terms of picture. The photography looks stunning in this format, especially the grand scale of this film which takes you from desert locations to Washington D.C. in beautiful detail. The film's textures are retained with a light grain, the film's colors are bold, vivid and most importantly natural especially the skin tones. Black levels are perfect without any noise, there was no edge enhancement, dirt or compression related issues with this image. Simply put it's fantastic.

Audio

This film includes three audio tracks, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, a French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround as well as a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. Firstly I am a bit disappointed with Warner Brother's lack of HD audio support, I would have loved to hear this film with an uncompressed PCM track, DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD tracks... however we only get standard Dolby Digital 5.1, the exact same audio track was produced for the DVD release. As far as a standard track goes I found it very good considering this is a dialogue heavy film, which by the way is clear and distortion free. The track does feature some subtle directional and environmental surrounds but all are blended in so they appear natural. While uncompressed or lossless audio would have added some more depth, this 5.1 track will have to do for now.
The film includes some scenes spoken in different languages, predominantly Arabic. These scenes all include subtitles in English. They appear to be grammatically correct and don't flash by too quickly. Additionally the disc also features optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

Warner Brothers have include a few extras that includes four featurettes, a selection of deleted scenes and the film's theatrical trailer. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First we have "A Conversation with George Clooney" this featurette runs for 9 minutes 12 seconds. Clooney discusses various aspects of the film, mainly focusing on the script and the people involved. He also covers working with the writer/director Stephen Gaghan, the importance of location shooting and how that helps actors get into the mindset of the characters, he also comments on former CIA agent Robert Baer, whose book this film was the template for and how that was translated for the screen by Gaghan among others topics relating to his character. The clip features some behind-the-scenes footage from the filming as well as the occasional clip from the finished film.

Following that is "Weaving Reality into Drama: A Filmmaker's Journey" featurette which runs for 26 minutes 8 seconds. This is the first of two exclusive extras on this Blu-ray release. In this clip we follow the director has he researches elements for the film across several countries. The director comments on his interest in this story and motivation for making the film. His involvement with former CIA agent Robert Baer and the development of the story among other things, including meeting with various oil Barons and oil traders around Europe and the Middle East. The clip also looks at the production of the film at the various locations.

"A Conversation with Matt Damon" is a featurette that runs for 7 minutes 14 seconds, and is the second exclusive extra on this Blu-ray release. Damon comments on the film's themes, his character, working with experts to maintain authenticity of the character, his character's story arc and experiences in working on the film and with the other cast members among other things.

Next up is the "Make a change, make a difference" featurette which runs for 11 minutes 20 seconds. In this piece the main cast and crew all discuss the importance of the film and its message it send about the energy business and the multiple layers that it encompasses. They stress the concept of the western world's addiction to oil and what measures that are taken to ensure that addiction is continually fed, and how those actions effect everyone. Much like the previous featurettes these interviews with cast and crew are inter-cut with behind-the-scenes footage and makes for interesting viewing.

A collection of 3 deleted scenes are included:

- Scene #8: "Bob, Margaret And Robbie At The Cafe" runs for 2 minutes 14 seconds, in this scene Bob's wife Margaret expresses her frustration at how Bob's job and position in Iran is effecting their family.
- Scene #58: "Bob And Fred Walk And Talk" runs for 1 minute 25 seconds, Bob's boss Fred asks how he's finding intelligence work, Bob is frank with this answer.
- Scene #123: "Margaret Visits Bob" runs for 2 minutes 21 seconds, after his brutal beating in Beirut, Margaret visits Bob in the hospital and Bob tells her what he's been doing for the CIA.

Rounding out the discs extras is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 18 seconds.

Packaging


Overall

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: A-

 


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