The presence of George Clooney, Matt Damon and other fine actors helps you ignore your sense of descending ignorance as the movie unfolds. And the ending, when you think about it for a few days, does add up.
As he did in Traffic, Gaghan intertwines his disparate subplots with impeccable pacing -- his screenplay is a model of how to arrange scenes so that each one ends leaving you wanting to know more.
It's a strange movie, and a stunningly pessimistic one, and the strangeness and pessimism connect it (in my mind, at least) to other recent American films in ways that suggest that something unhappy in the national mood has crept into the movies.
Syriana is an endlessly fascinating movie about oil and money, America and China, traders and spies, the Gulf States and Texas, reform and revenge, bribery and betrayal.
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.
Your enjoyment of this movie will be in direct proportion to your patience. If you can stand not knowing everything right now and wait for the story's threads to weave into a rug, Syriana makes for an engaging time.