Five out of five stars
No actors have leveraged their star power better than George Clooney and Matt Damon. They have been activists off the screen for several major international causes and Clooney has appeared in some of the most thoughtful films regarding the issues of our time. This movie, in which all are really supporting actors, deals with the power of big oil and how it warps so much of how governments behave.
George Clooney is Bob Barnes, a CIA agent that works the Middle East, his first action is to sell two powerful missiles to a shadowy group, only to sabotage one of them so that it explodes, killing the buyers. Unfortunately, the other one is whisked away by another group and lost. Matt Damon is Bryan Woodman, a highly regarded oil analyst that regularly appears on television, giving his opinion on the markets. Jeffrey Wright is Bennett Holiday, an American lawyer that is facilitating the proposed merger of two major oil companies. The merger raises many antitrust concerns as well as there is the appearance of bribery.
When the foreign minister (Prince Nasir) of an Arab emirate rich in oil grants natural gas drilling rights to a Chinese company, it sets of alarm bells among the powerful American oil companies. This leads to actions on the part of the American government to alter the governmental structure of the emirate. Through an invitation to a party, Woodman meets Prince Nasir and when Nasir reveals his intentions to modernize his country, Woodman becomes his advisor.
This is a great thriller, the cynicism and ruthlessness of the major players is considerable. Prince Nasir is a reformer that wants to use the oil money to improve the fundamental infrastructure of his country and give women greater rights. The best line is uttered by Bennett Holiday when he tells an oil executive that they need one more scapegoat if the merger is to be approved. When there is pushback, he replies, “Our goal here is not to perform due diligence, it is to provide the appearance of due diligence.” The oil executive immediately understands and gives his approval.
The plot has several tracks, most of which can be mapped to the actual political machinations that are an integral part of the dealings in the Middle East. One of the most significant is the plight of the guest workers in the oil fields of the emirate. Housed and treated poorly, the merger throws many of them out of a job and leads some of them down the path of terrorism. While this movie does require the viewer to adopt a bit of a conspiracy theory mentality, that movement is of no great distance.