Syriana (2005)
Warner Home Video
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, Christopher Plummer
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Interviews, Theatrical Trailer

"Syriana" is one of those understated film that you do not hear too much about when they hit the box office. Not a lot of fanfare, not a lot of advertising, but soon after the film is turning out to be a true gem and is showered with award nominations. Now Warner Home Video debuts the movie on HD-DVD and I was eager to take a look, especially since I had missed the film during its theatrical run.

"Syriana" is an unconventional film in that it does not establish a plot with a drama, follows it along until it is resolved. Instead, it takes a more multifaceted approach by establishing a handful of characters that are seemingly unrelated, follows them along, observing their actions until in the end all their individual existences converge into a single plotline in the movie's final act. As such, explaining the story is not a straight forward proposition.

We see Bob (George Clooney) an arms' dealer, selling missiles to dubious figures in the Middle East. A Wall Street analyst (Matt Damon) is trying to get inside news about the plans of an oil-producing emir in order to predict market changes and ends up being the prince's adviser on his quest for reform. Two Pakistani workers desperately try to make a living in the Middle East oil fields and end up being recruited by terrorists. When a merger is proposed between two American oil companies Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) is put on the job to get the inside scoop as to how these companies managed to get oil fielding rights in Kazakhstan where every other company has failed.
Looking closer into the politics of the oil industry, "Syriana" is a political drama that gives viewers a small glimpse at the goings-on in the Middle East. The struggle for power, the influences, the people and the way they are played by Western nations.

The movie offers up some impressive performances, spear-headed by a portrayal of George Clooney that is amazing to look at. But all the parts have been cast extremely well to create characters that feel real and alive. Well plotted and under the direction of Stephen Gaghan, the film has a lot of atmosphere and always creates a sense of underlying threat, especially as the viewer gradually understands how all these characters are interrelated.

Warner Home Video has prepared a high definition version of this powerful and intelligent film for release on HD-DVD and the result is an image that is amazingly rich in detail. Without any defects or blemishes, "Syriana" looks absolutely marvelous with eye-popping colors and such a high level of detail in the picture that you will be unable not to be mesmerized. But I also found the color reproduction remarkable. Although "Syriana" is not a film that is awash in powerful palettes and has a natural look, it is the color highlights you find in the film that make such a difference. The blue of the skies or the ocean, a dress in the streets, an explosion in the background, these things are all rendered with such accuracy and vividness that they spring to life on the screen. "Syriana's" visuals have been designed with a gritty look in mind, deliberately adding grain to the picture at times and it is perfectly reproduced here.
Contrast is another example where this transfer simply shines. With its deep blacks the image is always firmly rooted and offers very good depth, but it is the highlights that are so remarkable. Many of the Arabs in the film are dressed in spotless white garbs, and yet, there are subtle nuances to been seen here, and oftentimes you can even spot the seams, even in medium shots. Now that is what high definition video is all about!

The audio on the release is equally impressive, coming as a Dolby Digital Plus track in English and French, as well as a Spanish Stereo track. Much of the film is dialogue driven and as such it is quite unspectacular, of course, but at the same time, the film offers many moments of bustling activity and it is there that the surround channels are put to subtle, but effective, use. Add to it Alexandre Desplat's music and you get an audio presentation that is engaging and rich without ever becoming obtrusive or gimmicky. Dialogues are always understandable and well integrated, making sure you can follow the story well even at low volumes.

The HD-DVD version comes with a few extras to supplement the feature film, all of them presented in 480p standard definition. First off is a selection of three additional scenes. These scenes, while good, have been cut from the movie because they would not have added much to the film.
Also included in this release is "Make A Change, Make a Difference," a featurette about the importance of films like "Syriana." The hunger for oil, and political power is so permeating the West that countries like the US would do just about anything to obtain them. In this featurette we are reminded that sometimes it is important to speak out instead of just letting things take their course.
Down those same lines – although a bit more focused on the film itself – are two interviews that are also included on the disc. The first one is with George Clooney as he discusses the film's production and characters, and the second one in which Matt Damon talks about the non-politics of the film. Both of them are very interesting, especially given the political charge of the movie itself.
In addition to these we also have a 26-minute featurette on this release that is called "Weaving Reality Into Drama." It takes a look at the fine line the filmmakers had to walk in order to create a film that makes the drama interesting while also making a political statement. These things are not easy to combine, especially if you do not want to end up with a film that is moralizing but instead invites viewers to think about the subject matter a little more.
The release is rounded out by the movie's theatrical trailer.

"Syriana" is a great film, and an important one. We have reached times again in which political films are not only finding an audience, but they have a purpose. Our society has become increasingly complacent and seems to accept anything that is going on in the world as given, when in fact there are certain powers pulling strings, molding world politics their way. And it is happening right in front of our eyes. Events like 9/11 did not begin their course in the Middle East. It was a reaction to things that happened right here on our doorsteps, and it is important for people to understand that. Films like "Syriana" help by exploring the underbelly of power. Make sure you add this film to your movie collection!