Notice the slew of movies about previously taboo topics, like the war on terror? George Clooney and others explain why controversy is making a big-screen comeback
Credit: Syriana: Glen Wilson

”Two or three years ago, I was being called un-American in the press. One magazine put me on its cover with the word Traitor. People were protesting my movies. All I did was make a few comments in a few interviews that before we sent 150,000 kids to be shot at in Iraq, maybe we should ask a few questions. But back then, you were called unpatriotic if you wanted to ask questions.”

Right now, on this breezy Sunday morning in mid-November, the only insurgency you’ll find at George Clooney’s home on a secluded hillside in Los Angeles is being spearheaded by his pet pig, Max, oinking furiously at the garage door for his breakfast. ”Things have mellowed out since then, but it got pretty hairy for a while,” the 44-year-old actor goes on, lounging in a leather sofa in his living room. ”People were afraid to say things. Big stars would come up to me and whisper that they supported me — I thought it was strange that they felt they had to whisper. But people seem to be less afraid now. They’re calming down. Lots of people are starting to ask questions. It’s becoming hard to avoid the questions.”

Questions are certainly posed in Syriana, the cinematic smart bomb Warner Bros. lobbed into select theaters on Nov. 23. A searing drama about America’s war on terror (written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, who won a best-screenplay trophy for 2000’s Traffic, his searing drama about America’s war on drugs), the film follows an assortment of loosely connected characters whose lives get tangled in the geopolitics of the Persian Gulf. There’s Clooney as a CIA agent who gets kidnapped and tortured by Middle Eastern terrorists; Chris Cooper as an oil tycoon pulling strings in Washington, D.C.; Matt Damon as an ambitious petroleum analyst in Geneva; and a dozen or so others, including sympathetically portrayed teen suicide bombers and an Arab prince with radical ideas about democracy. Nor is Syriana the only movie raising issues at the multiplex these days. A slew of politically charged films have been flooding into theaters, with Hollywood delving into the sorts of sensitive subject matter that, until recently, had been left mainly to rabble-rousing documentarians (the kind who used to get booed at the Oscars).

NEXT PAGE: A 9/11 drama — starring Adam Sandler?!?

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