There’s a moment early on in Stephen Gaghan’s magnificent movie when an American mother tells her husband not to interfere when their child is being bullied. “Let him work it out for himself: it’ll foster his autonomy.” And, like a lot of the dialogue in the film, the line is loaded with political significance. What happens to that child and to the many characters while on their quests for autonomy is what makes the movie so good.

Like all fine works of art, Syriana has some serious flaws– the characters’ dialects were all mixed up (at some point a sheikh tells Clooney’s character that his Arabic is good when it is in fact so awful I had no idea what he was saying–I wish I’d been his, ahem, dialect coach); Lebanon and many other Middle Eastern countries come off as crappy religious states rather than the complex nations they really are; the storylines could have used a bit more breadth– but its overall delivery left me feeling knocked off-center.

I was surprised and impressed with how deftly the film connected themes of family and love– at its heart, this is really a movie about fathers and sons– with nation buidling, greed, legacy and loss.

And on the drive home, I — someone who struggles deeply with her faith– wept as I thought of God. There aren’t many movies that do that for me, and I’m thrilled this one is out there.

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