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Movie Review: NOW PLAYING

December 15, 2005

&

145;Syriana&

is would have been stronger with a tighter focus

&

Syriana&

is unsettling and in great part unintelligible, and that may be exactly the effect the filmmakers were going for. But it&

s a high risk and questionable gain gamble.

Though the film fails to tell a coherent story &

there is no narrative arc to the plot or to the characters &

it does nudge that part of the intellect that is predisposed to wonder if most of what we observe on the stage of world and domestic politics is pure illusion. A chimera of campaign rhetoric, public relations, and shallow committee reports, created by immensely rich and powerful people with a great deal at stake.

Stephen Gaghan, the writer and director of &

Syriana,&

also wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay &

Traffic.&

Both films are about addiction: oil and drugs and the worldwide cartels that clearly wield more power than many elected officials. Just perhaps, the film implies, our Middle East policy is not about bringing democracy to a region; rather, what we are about is firmly establishing our strategic presence where the world&

s last remaining underground reserves of oil are located. Oil is power. It is wealth beyond imagination. And it is a finite resource that is quickly running out, due in part to the fact that China and India, two nascent industrial giants, are now in the mix and competing for what remains. Everything begins and ends with oil. World economies are predicated on its uninterrupted flow. All else is foreplay.

This much is clear. More or less.

But as a story that makes even a modicum of sense, &

Syriana&

is a mess. It has a quasi-documentary feel to it (Gaghan relies in great part on the handheld camera) and is far too ambitious, weaving multiple narratives together, ending up with none that resonate.

We know next to nothing about George Clooney&

s character, Bob Barnes, a CIA field agent. Briefly we see him having lunch with his son, who is attending college, and know only that they seem estranged, caused in part by Barnes&

inability to be forthcoming about his life. Bryan Woodman, an oil analyst, portrayed by Matt Damon, whose son is tragically killed at a gala for an oil Sheik, is also an enigma. He is courting the emirs of the Arab emirates on behalf of his company, but to what end is never made clear.

&

Syriana&

is really two, maybe three, films in one. At its center are some truths that could have been explored in depth, but aren&

t. We get brief glimpses of characters, relationships, but little else. Much about the film is elusive, its complexity serving only to dillute the plot. But that may be the effect Gaghan was going for, his fallback explanation being that the medium is the message. High risk to be sure.

King Kong

An expedition searches for a mythic monster on a far away island, and a playwright becomes an unlikely hero in a romantic adventure story that will test both his physical courage and his heart. Directed by Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings" trilogy) Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Colin Hanks.

PG-13/180 min.

Family Stone

A man brings his ice-queen girlfriend home for Christmas to meet his eccentric family. Overwhelmed by a hostile reception, the girlfriend begs her sister to join her for moral support, resulting in further problems and romantic complications. Diane Keaton, Sara Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Rachel McAdams, Craig T. Nelson, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes.

PG-13 for some sexual content including dialogue, and drug references/103 min.

Chronicles of Narnia

A White Witch has used her dark powers to keep Narnia in winter, but it is foretold that four humans will be able to help break the spell. When four siblings&

150;Lucy, Susan, Edmund and Peter&

150;enter the enchanted world through a wardrobe, the stage is set for a classic battle of epic proportions. Tilda Swinton, Georgie Henley, William Moseley, Skandar Keynes.

PG for for battle sequences and frightening moments/140 min.

Shopgirl

Mirabelle, a shopgirl who sells gloves and accessories at Neiman Marcus, feels useless in her job and unfulfilled by a romantic relationship. Then Ray, a rich older man enters her life. Eventually she must choose between the older, wealthy divorcee and the younger, struggling musician.

R for some sexual content and brief language/106 min.

Aeon Flux

400 years in the future, disease has wiped out most of the earth's population, except for one walled city-state ruled by a congress of scientists. Aeon Flux, the top operative in an underground rebellion is sent to kill a government leader, but uncovers a world of secrets. Based on the MTV animated series created by Peter Chung. Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Marton Csokas, Jonny Lee Miller, Sopie Okonedo, Pete Postlewaite.

PG-13 for sequences of violence and sexual content/95 min.

Harry Potter and the

Goblet of Fire

Harry is plagued by a horrible vision &

Lord Voldemort and his familiars out for murder. meanwhile, Hogwarts is prepping for the Quidditch World Cup, and the Yule Ball is approaching.

PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images/157 min.

Walk the Line

A chronicle of the life of Johnny Cash, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, and his romance with June Carter.

PG-13 for some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency/133 min.

Capote

In November of 1959 Truman Capote, author of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and a favorite figure in what is soon to be known as the "jet set", reads an article on the back page of the New York Times about the murders of four members of a well-known farm family in Kansas. The story presents an opportunity to test his long-held theory that in the hands of the right writer, non-fiction can be as compelling as fiction.

R for some violent images and brief strong language/114 min.

Good Night and

Good Luck

In the mid-1950&

s, Edward R. Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly, helped bring an end to the tyranny of the blacklist and Joseph McCarthy, who had the power to destroy careers and lives by accusing people of being or aiding Communists. Filmed in black and white.

PG for mild thematic elements and brief language/100 min.

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen's classic tale of love and misunderstanding unfolds in class-conscious England near the close of the 18th century. Five sisters have been raised well aware of their mother&

s fixation on finding them husbands and securing set futures. The spirited and intelligent Elizabeth, however, strives to live her life with a broader perspective, as encouraged by her doting father.

PG for some mild thematic elements/128 min.