PlotU.S. energy giant Connex is losing control of key Middle East oil fields in a kingdom ruled by the al-Subaai family. The emirate's foreign minister, Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig), has granted natural gas drilling rights to a Chinese company, greatly upsetting the U.S. oil industry and government. To compensate for its decreased production capacity, Connex initiates a shady merger with Killen, a smaller oil company that recently won the drilling rights to key petroleum fields in Kazakhstan. Connex-Killen ranks as the world's twenty-third largest economy, and antitrust regulators at the U.S. Justice Department (DoJ) have misgivings. A Washington, D.C.-based law firm headed by Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer) is hired to smooth the way for the merger. Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) is assigned to promote the impression of due diligence to the DoJ, deflecting any allegations of corruption.
Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) is an energy analyst based i...
U.S. energy giant Connex is losing control of key Middle East oil fields in a kingdom ruled by the al-Subaai family. The emirate's foreign minister, Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig), has granted natural gas drilling rights to a Chinese company, greatly upsetting the U.S. oil industry and government. To compensate for its decreased production capacity, Connex initiates a shady merger with Killen, a smaller oil company that recently won the drilling rights to key petroleum fields in Kazakhstan. Connex-Killen ranks as the world's twenty-third largest economy, and antitrust regulators at the U.S. Justice Department (DoJ) have misgivings. A Washington, D.C.-based law firm headed by Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer) is hired to smooth the way for the merger. Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) is assigned to promote the impression of due diligence to the DoJ, deflecting any allegations of corruption.
Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) is an energy analyst based in Geneva, Switzerland. Woodman's supervisor directs him to attend a private party hosted by the emir at his estate in Marbella, Spain, to offer his company's services. The emir's illness during the party prevents Woodman from speaking directly with him while, at the same time, the emir's younger son, Prince Meshal Al-Subaai (Akbar Kurtha), shows the estate's many rooms and areas to Chinese oil executives via remote-controlled cameras. No one notices that a crack in one of the swimming pool area's underwater lights has electrified the water. Just as Woodman and all the other guests are brought to the pool area, Woodman's son jumps into the pool and is fatally electrocuted.
In reparation and out of sympathy for the loss of his son, Prince Nasir, the emir's older son, grants Woodman's company oil interests worth US$75 million, and Woodman, though initially insulted by the offer, gradually becomes his economic advisor. Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig) is dedicated to the idea of progressive reform and understands that oil dependency is not sustainable in the long term; Nasir wants to utilize his nation's oil profits to diversify the economy and introduce democratic reforms, in sharp contrast to his father's repressive government, which has been supported by American interests.
Bob Barnes (George Clooney) is a veteran Operations Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) trying to stop illegal arms trafficking in the Middle East. While on assignment in Tehran, Iran, to kill two arms dealers, Barnes notices that one of two anti-tank missiles (actually the Stinger MANPAD) intended to participate in an explosion was diverted to an Egyptian (Amr Waked), while the other explodes and kills the two arms dealers, who are later also revealed to be "Iranian Intelligence agents." Barnes makes his superiors nervous by writing memos about the missile theft and is subsequently reassigned to a desk job. However, unaccustomed to the political discretion required, he quickly embarrasses the wrong people by speaking his mind and is sent back to the field with the assignment of assassinating Prince Nasir, whom the CIA identifies as being the financier behind the Egyptian's acquisition of the missile. Prior to his reassignment, Barnes confides in his ex-CIA agent friend, Stan Goff (William Hurt), that he will return to Lebanon. Goff advises him to clear his presence with Hezbollah so they know he is not acting against them. Barnes travels to Lebanon, obtains safe passage from a Hezbollah leader, and hires a mercenary named Mussawi (Mark Strong) to help kidnap and murder Nasir. But Mussawi has now become an Iranian agent and has Barnes abducted instead; Mussawi himself then tortures Barnes. The Hezbollah leader ultimately arrives at the scene of Barnes's torture in time to stop Mussawi from beheading Barnes.
When the CIA learns that Mussawi plans to broadcast the agency's intention to kill Nasir, they try to distance themselves by scapegoating Barnes, portraying him as a rogue agent. Whiting worries—first about Barnes talking about the Nasir assassination plan, second about the possibility that Nasir's coup might have a greater likelihood of success, and third that killing Nasir with an MQ-1 Predator drone would make it obvious as an American-backed assassination. So he has Barnes's passports revoked, locks him out of his computer at work, and has him investigated. Barnes, however, learns from Goff that Whiting is responsible and threatens him and his family unless he halts the investigation and releases Barnes's passports.
Barnes eventually learns why he was portrayed as a rogue agent and approaches Prince Nasir's convoy to warn him of the assassination plan. As he arrives, a guided bomb from a circling Predator drone strikes the automobile of Nasir and his family, killing them instantly. Woodman, having earlier offered his seat to Nasir's family, survives the blast and makes his way home to his wife and son.
Pakistani migrant workers Saleem Ahmed Khan (Shahid Ahmed) and his son Wasim (Mazhar Munir) board a bus to go to work at a Connex refinery, only to discover that they have been laid off due to a Chinese company outbidding Connex for the rights to run the facility. Since the company had provided food and lodging, the workers face the threat of poverty and deportation due to their unemployed status. Wasim desperately searches for work but is refused because he doesn't speak Arabic. Wasim and his friend join an Islamic school to learn Arabic in order to improve their employment prospects. While playing soccer, they meet a charismatic Islamic fundamentalist cleric (Amr Waked)—the same man who earlier stole Bob Barnes' anti-aircraft missile—who eventually leads them to execute a suicide attack on a Connex-Killen LNG tanker using a shaped-charge explosive from the missing Tehran missile.
Bennett Holiday meets with U.S. Attorney Donald Farish III (David Clennon), who is convinced that Killen bribed someone to get the drilling rights in Kazakhstan. While investigating Connex-Killen's records, Holiday discovers a wire transfer of funds that leads back to a transaction between Texas oilman and Killen Co. colleague Danny Dalton (Tim Blake Nelson) and Kazakh officials. Holiday tells Connex-Killen of his discovery, and they pretend not to have known about it. Holiday advises Dalton that he will likely be charged with corruption in order to serve as a "body" to get the DoJ off the back of the rest of Connex-Killen; Dalton responds with a fervent defense of how corruption is simply the way of competition and how America "wins" against the rest of the corrupt world. Farish then strong-arms Holiday into giving the DoJ information about illegal activities he has discovered. Holiday gives up Dalton, but Farish says this is not enough. Holiday meets with the CEO of Killen Oil, Jimmy Pope (Chris Cooper), and informs him that the DoJ needs a second body in order to drop the investigation. Pope asks Holiday whether a person at Holiday's firm above him would be sufficient as the additional body. Holiday acknowledges that if the name were big enough, the DoJ would stop the investigation and allow the merger.
Holiday is brought by his colleague and mentor Sydney Hewitt (Nicky Henson) to meet with the CEO of Connex Oil, Leland "Lee" Janus (Peter Gerety). In a surprise move, Holiday reveals an under-the-table deal that Hewitt made while the Connex-Killen merger was being processed. Holiday has given Hewitt to the DoJ as the second body, thereby protecting the rest of Connex-Killen. Janus is able to accept the "Oil Industry Man of the Year" award with a load taken off his shoulders. Throughout the film, Holiday has angrily crossed paths with his alcoholic father Bennett Sr.; at the movie's end when the merger has been completed, Bennett Jr. lets his apologetic-looking dad enter his house and shuts the door.
The final Holiday-family scene serves to underscore the fact that every storyline here is built around major father–son relationships: Woodman returns home to embrace his surviving younger son following the murder of Prince Nasir, whose own father, the Emir, had rejected him and handed the throne to his younger brother. Wasim hugs and waves farewell to his totally unsuspecting Pakistani father before embarking on his suicidal terrorist mission. And Bob Barnes, collateral damage in the Nasir assassination, leaves behind his only child, the high school senior who had earlier called both him and his CIA-employed mother "professional liars." Throughout the film, in fact, the solitary, visible mother figure—indeed, one of the only compassionate female characters of any type—is Julie Woodman, the grieving mother of a son, one of three young sons tragically killed in the film.
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Syriana", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0