Syriana utilizes topical subject matter in order to put a human face on complicated world events. The film tells a very intricate story in that the actions of over a dozen characters all impact the others. Putting all the pieces together might require more than one viewing, but the performances are so vivid and the filmmaking so assured that one never feels lost during a viewing. With this many characters and plot threads it is easy for directors to trip, but Stephen Gaghan manages to make each scene feel like it is in the right place at the right time. The film shows an obvious debt to not only Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (which Gaghan scripted), but also such gritty, paranoid '70s films as All the President's Men. George Clooney plays very much against type as a burned-out CIA agent, based on a real CIA agent whose nonfiction book served as the jumping off point for the film. His performance exudes a weariness that he has never shown before. The most underappreciated actor of his time, Jeffrey Wright turns in yet another pitch-perfect performance as a lawyer who keeps his motivations hidden. Matt Damon does angry and articulate as well as anybody, and he benefits greatly from some outstanding speeches. These performers, and all of the others as well, help keep the sprawling film to a digestible experience. The political content of the film is pretty basic; Gaghan simply hopes to show the human price paid when government and big business are so closely intertwined as to be almost indistinguishable.