Syriana is a film that is overloaded with information, but none of it resonates with the audience watching it. There are at least four separate stories taking place here, but none of them are given enough time to make much of an impact. In a film that stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffery Wright, and contains supporting performances from many other well-known actors, it’s a shame that Syriana isn’t much better than it is.

Perhaps the best way to set-up the film is to detail the openings of all of the stories, and what they surround. For the most part, this is a movie dealing with the oil industry, and its impacts all around the world. Each story deals with a separate area or tells a different perspective, even though they all stay in the safe gray area, rarely actually making much of a statement. If you’re surprised by many of the statements made by Syriana, you should probably watch your local news more often. Or just do that anyway, because (1) it will be less confusing than this film, and (2) not enough people seem to watch the news nowadays.

Let’s start with the Clooney story. He begins the film in the Middle East and working for the CIA. He deals with illegal weapon trafficking, but notices that one of the missiles he was supposed to be watching over is missing. Eventually, upon returning to America, he’s told to keep quiet about the theft. He doesn’t, and is sent back to figure out a way to kill Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig), a good guy who has a lot of power.

We know that he’s a good guy from Damon’s storyline. He begins the film more or less watching one of his children die, as a malfunction in security made a swimming pool electrocuted. His kid jumped in after overwhelming peer pressure, and it’s at this point that you think his home life is going to be the central focus. That is not what happens, and I eventually wondered why it was included at all. His wife (Amanda Peet) especially seems unnecessary. Anyway, Damon’s character eventually becomes an adviser to the very same Prince Nasir from Clooney’s story.

Next, we have Jeffrey Wright. He’s kind of like a detective in this film, attempting to find out whether or not a company’s merger and drilling rights are suspicious. He meets Chris Cooper, Christopher Plummer, and hopefully someone else whose name begins with a “C,” all while continuing to investigate the oil company’s possibly illegal activities. This storyline has by far the least interesting turns.

Finally, we have a Pakistani worker (Mazhar Munir), whom we first meet losing his employment. He and his father both, and they’re told that unless they can find other work, they’ll have to be deported back to their home country. Unfortunately, they don’t speak Arabic, so finding another job proves difficult. He meets up with a charismatic fundamentalist (Amr Waked), who earlier stole Clooney’s missile, and you can probably figure out what goes on from here. Those who don’t like to read subtitles will hate this subplot, as there isn’t any English to listen to.

Syriana jumps around from story to story with little reason. Aside from a few key moments (almost all of which are right at the end), It would have been more engaging to tell each story separately instead of constantly moving back and forth. There also appeared to be a lot of trimming in order to keep the film at around the two hour mark, which doesn’t help its coherency. It also made some parts (like Damon’s character’s home life) unnecessary. If you’re going to remove the parts of the film that made that section work, do yourself a favor and completely excise it instead of giving us a half-butchered subplot.

Unfortunately, half-butchered subplots is what the entire film feels like. While they’re not cut down so much that the film would be better without them, the four main plots all lose some of their power when shown this way. Or maybe the screenplay simply didn’t give them enough to do. I might be more positive with Syriana if its stories served a purpose, but they all generally play it safe. Many of the endings serve to try to break free from this safety, but the film as a whole fails to make a statement because it doesn’t want to alienate an audience.

You expect a cast like this one to give you gripping performances. For the most part, your expectations will be matched. Clooney, Damon and Wright are all terrific, and the supporting cast members hold their own as well. It’s just too bad that the actors are only intermittently given interesting things to do. Most of the time, we’re watching them either discover or tell us things we already knew or assumed about the oil industry. I yawned a few times while watching this movie, and it wasn’t because I was tired.

Syriana isn’t a complete waste — it’s well-shot, has good performances and some scenes are actually fairly engaging — but unless you have somehow managed to avoid watching or reading any news about the oil industry, or just don’t think a lot about it or politics, there’s no point that it’ll make that you won’t already know. It doesn’t push any boundaries and it’s been cut down too much to be of much interest.