The Kingdom is a contemporary example of what a serious war action/drama used to be, even just a decade ago. Here we stand in a war that has already lasted longer than all of World War II and Hollywood’s method for handling the material is to shoot for the jugular, then crack a one-liner. Audiences can’t seem to handle anything remotely serious without shenanigans on the side, but fortunately The Kingdom is so well-made, engaging (even if the screenplay talks smarter than it is), and, at times, heart-stopping that it’s impossible to look away.
As the film opens, terrorists (dressed as Saudi police officers) launch a suicide attack on a softball game involving mostly Americans living inside a Western compound within the capital city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While the suits debate their next move, FBI agent Ronald Fleury (Foxx) negotiates a five-day trip to Saudi Arabia to investigate the crime firsthand. Joining him are three others; the bomb expert (Cooper), the forensics guru (Garner), and the guy whose sole purpose is drop annoying one-liners (Bateman). Once the crew arrives they befriend Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Barhom), a man who knows the inner workings of the terror cells in the area. As the investigation deepens the team finds themselves at odds with who to trust – and who might be the terror mastermind.
Director Peter Berg has a keen eye behind the camera and his pacing is what drives the film. While it’s more of a procedural than a straight-up action film, once things start getting really ramped up in final forty-five minutes you’ll be hard-pressed to catch your breath. That’s when it truly becomes apparent that The Kingdom is more about action than actual substance, which is what an astute viewer will pick up on early. I don’t have a problem with that as the film is always fascinating, but it’s impossible to dismiss the fact that had the screenplay, by Matthew Michael Carnahan, really taken it up a notch in terms of social relevance, this could have been so much more.
The consistent fault here is the completely Americanized necessity for a wisecracking sidekick to alleviate any sense of seriousness. Granted, cultural misunderstandings can be funny in the right context, but to have Jason Bateman’s character spouting nonsense in the face of mounting body counts and even at the prospect of being beheaded is grossly out-of-place. Just as dicey is Jennifer Garner’s limited role as the only female in the movie. This comes across as plenty contrived given the Saudi elite’s view on women. Fear not, as she gets to stab a terrorist in the crotch to get the kind of revenge that Jodie Foster would have been proud of in The Brave One just a few weeks ago.
Fortunately, Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper bring some real enthusiasm and class to their characters, not to mention the breakthrough performance by Ashraf Barhom as the friendly Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (especially for those who didn’t see Paradise Now, which is an excellent companion piece if you’re looking for something with more real-world relevance). The final sequence in The Kingdom is undeniably intense and moving, and the film’s overall message is conveyed nicely in the final frames. The Kingdom serves its purpose as a Hollywood action film, but there are numerous missed opportunities and faults that prevent it from reaching the upper echelon of war films. Sadly, when we look back on it in twenty years or so, it will probably play nicely as a portrait of one of the most messed up periods in contemporary history.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 110 Minutes
Rating: R for intense sequences of graphic brutal violence, and for language.
Theatrical Release: September 28, 2007
Directed by: Peter Berg
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman