After tackling the drug trade in &#8220Traffic,” screenwriter turned director Stephen Gaghan takes on the oil industry in the new film &#8220Syriana,” a complex thriller that challenges its audience with a fascinating story woven among several plot threads.

&#8220Syriana” isn't an easy film to follow, but once it reaches its final destination, the payoff is clearly worth the time and effort.

&#8220Syriana” unfolds against the backdrop of two powerful U.S. oil companies.

A merger would make the company a major player in the Persian Gulf, but the deal must first be approved by the government. The company hires a corporate lawyer (Jeffrey Wright) to make sure no problems occur with the merger.

Meanwhile, a CIA operative (George Clooney) starts to question his work after an attempt on the life of a wealthy Arab prince (Alexander Siddig) backfires.

Other story lines include an oil broker (Matt Damon) who takes up a partnership with the prince and a Pakistani teenager (Mazhar Munir) recruited by a terrorist cell.

For the first half of the film, these stories all seem to be pulling in different directions, but to Gaghan's credit, the story comes together quite nicely in the second half.

&#8220Syriana” is full of outstanding performances. Clooney is very good as the paranoid agent, whose worries prove to be accurate. Wright is impressive as the lawyer who faces several moral dilemmas during his investigation, Tim Blake Nelson has one of the year's great soapbox moments as a corrupt senator, and Munir presents his character in a very sympathetic manner.

With Clooney attached to the project, there are sure to be some people who will see this as nothing more than a liberally slanted film, but I found &#8220Syriana's” subject matter and the questions it asked fascinating.

It is a film that definitely will cause its audience to reflect and perhaps evoke healthy debate amongst friends. Not too many movies can challenge an audience with such effectiveness, but &#8220Syriana” does so in a powerful and provocative manner.

DVD dandy of the week

This week's DVD dandy is &#8220The Bad News Bears” (B-), an amiable enough remake of the 1976 classic that is helped greatly by some very funny work by Billy Bob Thornton.

Thornton plays Morris Buttermaker, a fringe major leaguer who is recruited to coach a Little League team that is made up of the players rejected by all the other teams.

Fans of the original will know what to expect - especially since director Richard Linklater chooses not to tinker much with the 1976 version. That familiarity is more of a negative than a positive, only accentuating the fact that the original didn't need to be remade.

But unlike the other sports remake of the year - &#8220The Longest Yard” - &#8220Bears” works, thanks to Thornton. He makes Buttermaker &#8220Bad Santa” on the diamond, and gives &#8220Bears” enough laugh-out-loud moments to overlook the film's numerous flaws.

&#8220The Bad News Bears” is rated PG-13 for rude behavior, language, and some sexuality and is available now on DVD.

&#8220Syriana”

Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon

Directed by: Stephen Gaghan

Rating: R for violence and language

Playing at: Great Escape 12

Grade: A

- Sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton now has reviews available on the Web. Just go to http://www.bgdailynews.com and click on the Compton's Critiques link for a quick hit of movies now playing in the area. Micheal can also be reach via e-mail at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.

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