Wednesday 20 February 2008

The Kingdom (2007)

Wednesday 20 February 2008
Director: Peter Berg
Writer: Matthew Michael Carnahan

Cast: Jamie Foxx (Agent Ronald Fleury), Jennifer Garner (Agent Janet Mayes), Chris Cooper (Agent Grant Syles), Jason Bateman (Agent Adam Leavitt), Ashraf Barhom (Colonel Faris Al-Ghazi), Ali Suliman (Sgt Haytham), Jeremy Piven (Damon Schmidt), Richard Jenkins (FBI Director James Grace), Kyle Chandler (Agent-In-Charge Francis Manner), Tim McGraw (Aaron Jackson), Frances Fisher (Elaine Flowers), Danny Huston (Gideon Young), Minka Kelly (Ms Ross), Anna Deavere Smith (Maricella Canavesio), Amy Hunter (Lyla Fleury) & Omar Berdouni (Prince Ahmed Bin Khaled)

After terrorists attack a US compound in Saudi Arabia, the FBI are given special permission to lead an investigation on foreign soil...

In a year crammed with disappointing Middle East-themed political movies (of which director Peter Berg also appeared in one; Lions For Lambs), Berg's film The Kingdom was one of the more successful. It's faint praise, but also quite worrying -- as this is by far the dumbest of a dull crop...

It was a moderate hit with audiences (despite mixed reviews) simply because it was marketed as an Iraq-based action thriller, despite really being a tepid investigation that only erupts into life for a gung-ho finale.

Inspired by the real-life bombing of the Khobar housing complex in 1996 and the Riyadh compound in 2003, The Kingdom opens with an attack on a US oil company's housing estate – situated in the middle of Saudi Arabia (the titular "Kingdom"). After terrorists break through security onto this patch of US soil, indiscriminately shooting innocent people during a softball game, before detonating a huge bomb, the FBI manage to sweet-talk their way onto foreign soil to lead an investigation....

Jamie Foxx displays warmth and gravitas as FBI Special Agent Fleury, the leader of a four-man team, comprised of: forensics specialist Agent Mayes (Jennifer Garner), demolitions expert Agent Sykes (Chris Cooper) and intelligence analyst Agent Leavitt (Jason Bateman). The team arrive in Saudi, immediately finding their hands tied by suspicious authorities, although they have an ally in their soft-spoken handler/protector Colonel Faris Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom).

There follows an hour of rather weak investigation, that generally involves Fleury getting upset about his team's restrictions, before forcing his way through to an understanding with the local lawmen and Prince Ahmed Bin Khaled (Omar Berdouni).

Foxx is clearly top dog, and makes for an engaging and intelligent tough-guy, while Ashraf Barhom gives the film's best performance as the sympathetic Al-Ghazi – with the two characters slowly coming to a position of mutual respect, and the beginnings of cross-cultural friendship...
Elsewhere, Jennifer Garner looks sexy sucking a lollipop and pulling bullets out of bodies, Chris Cooper is grouchy to Arabs whilst excavating a bomb crater, and Jason Bateman practically melts into the background until his character provides the catalyst for an exhilarating climax.

The film opens confidently enough with the terrorist attack (although there's too much reliance on pointless legends to identify inconsequential people back in the US), before settling into a mildly entertaining, but often humdrum, investigation. Foxx and Barhom just about pull you through this lackadaisical mid-section, until the film wakes up to deliver an enjoyable finale featuring a high-speed car-crash, frightening kidnap, and a fraught gunfight in "a bad neighbourhood".

The pace and Berg's kinetic camerawork helps keeps you interested, but by the end it's clear The Kingdom is an intriguing idea that doesn't deliver on its promise. The script, by Matthew Michael Carnahan is just too simplistic, clich├ęd, and lacks surprises and any twists. As an attempt to combine an intelligent political film with a simple action blockbuster, The Kingdom is pleasingly low on US jingoism, but it just doesn't provide much depth and texture.

It scores points for making an overexposed subject entertaining for Iraq-jaded audiences, and at least has the good grace to climax with some rousing excitement... but it ultimately doesn't linger very long in your memory, or provoke any post-film debate... which is surely what politically-themed films are supposed to do.

Universal Pictures
Budget: $70 million
109 minutes

PICTURE: 2.35:1 | SOUND: SDDS / DTS / Dolby Digital 5.1