I’ve been asked to refrain from running my review of Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (Warner Bros., 12.3) until 11.23, but Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers is running his because…he’s Peter Travers! We all know he gets quoted too often, and that he’s creamed over far too many mediocre films, but I agree with Travers all the way this time. “Written and directed in a fever of risk-taking provocation, [Syriana] takes off with the lightning speed of a thriller, the gonzo force of frontline journalism and the emotional wallop of a drama that puts a human face on shocking statistics,” he proclaims. “No dry civics lesson, this fighting-mad film isn’t just hot, it’s incendiary…and no one gets off the hook. You see Syriana with the exhilarating feeling that a movie can make a difference. The first surprise is George Clooney. Bearded and bloated from the thirty-five pounds he packed on to play CIA opreative Fred Barnes, he gives us a ground soldier who’s been used and used up by the CIA’s war on Middle East terrorism. Here is a man, struggling to put his son through college, who can order the assassination of Prince Nasir (the superb Alexander Siddig) for favoring China over the U.S. in an oil deal (‘Hit him with a truck going fifty miles per hour’), stand up to fingernail-yanking torture from former operatives and still be amazed when the Firm plays him for a patsy. This is the best acting Clooney has ever done — he’s hypnotic, haunting and quietly devastating. [And] Gaghan is in top form, mixing potent writing with images that tear at the heart, such as the sight at the madrassa of a Pakistani migrant worker (Mazhar Munir) — both he and his father are laid off by Connex after Nasir’s deal with the Chinese — being indoctrinated into Islamic fundamentalism. Syriana is a tough nut that demands attention, refuses to ingratiate and keeps throwing curves…it’s the kind of give-’em-hell filmmaking that Hollywood left for dead, the kind that matters.”