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Stephen Gaghan, who won an Oscar for writing Traffic (1999), turns his attention to another complex economy with this geopolitical intrigue about Middle East oil, though this time his ambition has outstripped his storytelling skills—even after two viewings I'd be hard-pressed to explain some of the characters' relationships to one another. George Clooney, bearded and chunky, plays a veteran CIA officer who can't get behind the agency's neoconservative template, Matt Damon is a financial analyst who parlays his young son's tragic death into a multimillion-dollar job with the son of an Arab emir, Jeffrey Wright is a meek corporate attorney greasing the wheels for a merger of two U.S. oil giants, and Christopher Plummer is—well, you tell me. This is intelligent, committed, and politically provocative, though its narrative puzzle box may prompt you to throw up your hands and let ExxonMobil go on running the world. Gaghan directed; with Chris Cooper, Amanda Peet, Peter Gerety, Alexander Siddig, and Tim Blake Nelson. R, 126 min.

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