Those who pay attention to global political issues surrounding the oil industry will learn nothing new from this film, but for a passive political observer this film will be an eye-opener. Nonetheless, for people in the know and for those who know nothing, the film delves into the corruption of the oil industry and the governments that support them.
The film is labyrinthine in how it deals with the issue, which is so complex that not one single character in the film knows the whole picture. It’s not as confusing as some have made it out to be, but the film certainly does not present any easy answers.
There are four major threads that weave together in the film. Bob Barnes (George Clooney, OCEAN’S ELEVEN) is a CIA agent married to a CIA agent who is desperate to settle down for his son’s sake. Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon, THE BOURNE IDENTITY) is a commodities broker based in Geneva, whose co-workers have little faith he can seal the big deal with the Emir of an oil rich Middle Eastern country. Bryan is married to Julie (Amanda Peet, CHANGING LANE), who wishes her husband could spend more time with his family as well. Through a bizarre accident, Bryan becomes an advisor to the Emir’s son Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (Alexander Siddig, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN) and finally feels he is involved in something important. Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright, 2004’s THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) is a lawyer assigned to investigate any wrongdoing involved in the merger of two giant oil firms — lead by Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer, THE INSIDER) and Jimmy Pope (Chris Cooper, AMERICAN BEAUTY). His investigation leads to loud-mouthed lobbyist Danny Dalton (Tim Blake Nelson, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?), who isn’t ashamed to say that corruption is how things run. In the final thread, Wasim Khan (Mazhar Munir, film debut) is a young Pakistani oil worker, who after a major oil company merger, is out of a job in a foreign country, which leads him to join an extremist Islamic school.