Movie Review for The Kingdom (2007)

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Review #527 of 365
Movie Review of The Kingdom (2007) [R] 110 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.00
Where Viewed: Harkins Ciné Capri at Northfield 18, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 15 September 2007
Time: 7:30 pm
DVD Release Date: 26 December 2007 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: order the CD below

Directed by: Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights)
Written by : Matthew Michael Carnahan

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Jamie Foxx (Dreamgirls) • Jennifer Garner (Catch and Release) • Jason Bateman (Smokin' Aces) • Chris Cooper (Breach) • Ashraf Barhom (Paradise Now) • Ali Suliman (Paradise Now) • Jeremy Piven (Smokin' Aces) • Kyle Chandler (King Kong)

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Click to read the spoiler points for The Kingdom
A tremendous action film with heart-pounding suspense, Peter Berg's long-in-development, The Kingdom storms onto the screen with an edgy Danny Elfman score and some sound-bite history of the Middle East since the 1940s. After that, the scene changes to a pastoral company softball game in the middle of an American Oil Company family compound in Saudi Arabia. Two police officers are shot and killed in their vehicle and replaced by imposters. They drive the vehicle past checkpoints and into the compound with their machine guns blazing killing anyone and everyone in sight. With the police and National Guard officers (who share the duty of protecting the compound and its inhabitants) confused over the shooting, it takes the quick action of Sergeant Haytham (Ali Suliman) to ram the attackers' vehicle stopping them in their tracks. Unfortunately, the distraction was intentionally designed to allow a suicide bomber to embed himself in the middle of the most populated area and detonate a killer explosion as the meticulous planners, under the thumb of fictional Saudi terrorist Abu Hamza, watch from a nearby apartment tower—their video camera on high speed.

"… an above-average film with some serious complexities that are not resolved well."
FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleuery (Jamie Foxx) is made aware of the event via a frantic cell phone call from his long-time friend and colleague, Special Agent Francis Manner (Kyle Chandler) on assignment in Saudi Arabia, during his son's portfolio discussion at school in Washington, DC. Ronald tells his son that he has leave and go to work and catch a bad guy. The two are obviously very close.

But, just as rescue workers are beginning to make headway, a second explosion, this one several orders of magnitude greater, occurs killing a hundred people and wounding far more. Special Agent Francis Manner was among those killed. His death galvanizes the FBI special response team, to seek action. When the Washington big wigs deny the FBI director permission to locate a team on the Arabian Peninsula, Fluery takes matters into his own hands using a potential media firestorm matter he whips up out of thin air as leverage to convince the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to allow him and his team access to the crime scene. He gets them permission to land with a team of four for five days. The team includes himself and Special Agents Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner) on forensic evidence, Adam Leavit (Jason Bateman) on technology, and Gran Sykes (Chris Cooper) on explosives. When they arrive at the military base airport, they are greeted by Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom) and his first Sergeant Haytham (Ali Suliman) who have been assigned to 'babysit' code for 'keeping them alive' while in Saudi Arabia. A high speed motorcade of black SUVs is their signature and procedural method of transport to the compound where rudimentary but thoughtful quarters have been established for them in the school's gymnasium. Once on site, they are informed by Al Ghazi that they pretty much will not be able to do anything.

The next day, however, he greets them and gives them their official list of dos and don'ts, mays and may nots, cans and cannots. Basically, their hands are tied. Brilliant at improvisation, however, they begin doing what they do best in their own styles. The first thing that's obvious is that their candid, in-the-trenches, potty mouthes are considered offensive to the Saudis. Moreover, while they share common goals, there is going to have to be a great cultural awakening in the FBI agents prior to them really being allowed to do their work. It is clear pretty quickly that the Saudi teams lack the experience needed to quickly get to the bottom of this crime scene. It is also clear, however, that more diplomacy will be required from Fluery's people than they may have in them. A State Department Official, Damon Schmidt (Jeremy Piven), who greets them shortly after sun up explains that his boss is furious they are there, and that they present a grave target themselves, and that he's got a plane on stand by to airlift them out at a moment's notice. But, they won't even consider that baloney.

Little by little, through a series of tough lessons, bonds of trust are forged and mutual respect begins to develop between Fluery's team and their Saudi counterparts. Some evidence is discovered, and an evening dinner at the palace of the Prince in charge of the matter builds bridges and establishes even greater rapport. This then converts into more evidence and some time for Fluery and Al Ghazi to settle in as friends. While the FBI team is very good, they are short-staffed and unable to connect the dots on the larger picture at work, however, though the develop some suspicions that they have not gotten to the bottom of the bombing despite an apparently media-worthy raid and killing of the compound thought to be that of the bombers. As they are on the way to be escorted back to the airport, however, an event happens that catalyzes a vicious and terrifying chain of events that run the course of the rest of the film—sort of the third act. At this point, the Peter Berg goes from simmer to full-on boil with non-stop action and suspense leading to some powerful but heart-wrenching occurrences. (see spoiler points for further revelations of plot)

Some advanced publicity describes The Kingdom as a thriller. In the strict sense of the word it is not a thriller rather it is an action film. There's not a lot of surprise or twist here.

There's been no film made before that plasters the walls with this level of realism when it comes to raw terrorism and the utter passion that drives those men committed to their cause to these levels of horrific acts. It is scary. While the story works, not very hard but it works, to align those assigned to solve the crime and show they share similar values and love for their children; it fails to elucidate the source of the anger, frustration, and animosity that drives the terrorists. They come across simply as religious fanatics with zealous natures that have driven them to this madness. How much more valuable this film could have been had it found a way to seize onto this angle weaving it equally well into the tapestry. Without this, the film devolves a bit into the category of an ordinary good guy vs. bad guy story.

Matthew Michael Carnahan's script portrays the USAers, pretty much to a fault, as non-religious people who lack even the simplest dimensions of respect for internationally diverse cultures. As is so often the case in Hollywood films, the characters operate on mostly an "I assume everyone on Earth speaks English" principle, "you'd better understand my cultural norms, but I don't need to have any consideration for yours" morality, and "we are the only ones who can ever do anything right" mentality. The film illustrates these negatives, but fails to show the harm that can come from them, unless one extrapolates that the real reasons behind all the current world problems when it comes to terrorism and war are due primarily to a fundamental lack of understanding and respect for others.

Whether well-researched or not, it is awfully hard to believe that FBI agents of this caliber would be reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam by Yahiya Emerick during their stay in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, would they not know more about the culture of the perceived enemy such as that it is considered highly disrespectful for non-muslims to touch the bodies of dead muslims? Were these meant to show the arrogance and lack of knowledge of the USAers? These parts, actually, were embarrassing.

When it comes to the characters in the film, the only two developed well are Al Ghazi and Fluery. The others were cut from stock previously used in dozens of similar films and therefore are just about as interesting. Jennifer Garner' Agent Mayes spends most of the film brooding over something inexplicable. Jason Bateman's Agent Leavitt is equally annoying as the lame joker whose fondness for expressing himself with extreme sarcasm even rubs the Saudi agents the wrong way. Chris Cooper's Agent Sykes's operational mode comes across as a holier-than-thou proposition as opposed to an educative one between allies. In the end, only Jamie Foxx's Ronald Fluery really seems to care about getting to know his peer. He bites his tongue and uses prudent diplomacy to win his way. Ashraf Barhom's charismatic portrayal of Colonel Al Ghazi, on the other hand, brings the most light to the film both in personality, passion, and hope. His character's infectious smile and obvious adoration for his children and pride in his profession and country are hard to miss.

For people hoping to get a look at Saudi Arabia, welcome to Phoenix. The film was shot almost entirely in Arizona using sets built from pictures of neighborhoods in Dubai. So, no, this is not Saudi Arabia. As for the overall effect of the film and the plot, it's a mixed bag. On the one hand, there's no doubt of the satisfaction of rooting out and capturing people who have committed a terrible crime against the laws of their own country. On the other hand, it is difficult to see little kids being shot, and then witnessing an audience cheer. In and of itself, this response should give us cause for pause and reflection. Is this precisely the reaction Peter Berg was anticipating? Did people miss the final lines of the film and the power they evoke because they were too caught up in the final act? If so, that would be a shame. (Not sure what they were? see spoiler points.) The Kingdom is an above-average film with some serious complexities that are not resolved well.

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Related Products from
Other Projects Featuring The Kingdom (2007)
Cast Members
Jamie FoxxJennifer GarnerJason Bateman
Chris CooperAshraf BarhomAli Suliman
Jeremy PivenKyle Chandler
Peter Berg
Matthew Michael Carnahan
CD Soundtrack

Review-lite The Kingdom (2007) [max of 150 words]
Actor / Director Peter Berg's ten-year plan to deliver an insider's look into the investigation of a terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia erupts with some spectacularly horrific footage of an oil company compound's family picnic and softball came being bombed. Unfortunately, the team of FBI Special Agents led by Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) arrives with USAer arrogance in tow hindering the investigation. Eventually, the final act delivers an incredible battle scene, but also sends mixed messages as to the final point of the film's story. Ashraf Barhom as Colonel Al Ghazi steals the show on the acting front with his and Jamie Foxx's characters being the most well-developed in Matthew Michael Carnahan's script.

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