Very loosely based on former CIA operative Robert Baer's incendiary 2002 memoir See No Evil, TRAFFIC screenwriter Stephen Gaghan's second turn as a feature director envisions an all-too-real world in which oil-company profits trump the war against terrorism in a Middle East about to explode. The spark that threatens to ignite this tinderbox is the announcement that Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig), an unnamed Persian Gulf nation's heir apparent, has refused to re-sign a key natural-gas contract with Texas-based petroleum giant Connex, instead handing drilling rights to the highest bidder, the Chinese. Prince Nasir is more interested in his country's future than in appeasing U.S. business interests, a quality that doesn't sit well with Connex CEO Leland Janus (Peter Gerety), who has another headache at home. Connex's proposed merger with another company, Killen, is being held up until the Department of Justice can determine whether Killen boss Jimmy Pope (Chris Cooper) did anything illegal to win the highly desirable drilling rights to Kazakstani oil fields. In the name of due diligence, Connex-Killen brings in Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright), a young attorney with the powerful white-shoe Washington firm founded by Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer). Coincidentally or not, the CIA is also taking an interest in Prince Nasir, and is about to kill two birds with one stone by sending grizzled veteran operative Bob Barnes (George Clooney) to Lebanon in order to keep tabs on the prince as he passes through Beirut with his new financial advisor, Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon). Barnes has made a pest of himself around Langley with a barrage of memos about a missing missile, and he's also refused to play nice when briefing the CIA about the reality of Iranian human-rights violations and terrorism when his bosses would like to help U.S. businessmen get a pipeline built through Iran. Although his instructions are intentionally left vague, Barnes understands his mission implicitly: Kidnap and kill Prince Nasir. Meanwhile, the furthest thing from anyone's mind is the fate of all those now-unemployed Connex workers. Some, like young Pakistani immigrant Wasim (Mazhar Munir), are finding new homes in extremist madrasas where they're told of the paradise that awaits martyrs who die in terrorist attacks against Western interlopers. Like TRAFFIC, Gaghan tells this complex tale from multiple perspectives, but runs the risk of obscuring the film's important message with too many extraneous characters. It's not exactly clear when the action takes place, but if the film's depiction of the CIA as an agency more interested in making the world appear safe for U.S. energy conglomerates than actually tracking terrorist networks — a portrayal that jibes closely with Baer's own account — we can only hope that the time frame is meant to be sometime before 9/11, and not after. Either way, it's a troubling vision of how terrorism and "martyrdom" occur on both sides of this ghostly war, and is both perpetrated and facilitated by the very forces enlisted to stop it.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: R
- Review: Very loosely based on former CIA operative Robert Baer's incendiary 2002 memoir See No Evil, TRAFFIC screenwriter Stephen Gaghan's second turn as a feature director envisions an all-too-real world in which oil-company profits trump the war against terroris… (more)