This weekend I decided to go super depressing and watch both Munich and Syriana. (I wanted to see both before the Oscars.) They are both sobering looks at the past and present situation in the Middle East, and both are superbly crafted. Of the two, I would say Munich was the better movie. I certainly found it more affecting. The performances were incredibly touching, though generally understated. I am surprised that Eric Bana did not get more Oscar buzz for his work. Spielberg has great control over his material, balancing his artistic license with the facts. The script by Tony Kushner (I heard a very interesting interview with him on Fresh Air, btw) and Eric Roth is well-paced. My only problem with the film was that is was too long. But I don't really see how much material could have been cut anyway.
Syriana follows the structure of Stephen Gaghan's other famous work, Traffic, very closely. Therefore, it jumps straight into the action without preamble and introduces characters quickly. It's a bit confusing, but purposefully so. No one character takes center stage, as their stories are cut together and intertwined. (George Clooney has a largish part and gets top billing, but he's still nominated for a supporting actor Oscar, not a best actor Oscar.) The ending is abrupt but strangely cathartic. There are no answers, but somehow there is a sliver of hope and humanity. The world is caught in the grip of King Oil, but his reign is constantly affected by the actions of individuals. Individuals do matter, even though many will fail in their aims.