The Kingdom

kingdom-poster“Does he know where Bin Laden is? Because that would be great.”

The Scoop: 2007 R, directed by Peter Berg and starring Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, and Jennifer Garner

Tagline: Under fire. Under Pressure. Out of Time.

Summary Capsule: An FBI special investigation team takes an off-the-books trip to Saudi Arabia to solve the mystery behind a shocking terror attack.

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Al’s Rating: Not an audience participation sort of film, and yet…

Al’s Review: I’m still trying to figure out as I write how to approach this review of The Kingdom. On one hand is all about going for what this movie really is — a well-executed action/drama with lots of CSI-style detective work and gritty urban combat — and the other, the one that is definitely weighing more heavily on me at the moment, can’t help but hold onto how I feel it’s going to be perceived by people in the seats. The thickheadedness of the local teenagers who come to five-dollar Tuesday shouldn’t be a factor in how much or how little I liked The Kingdom, but it is and I can’t help it.

Before I launch into any moralizing, let me indulge in my reviewerly duties and talk about what’s up on screen. The Kingdom deals with four American FBI specialists who make an unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia in the wake of a devastating bombing on a Saudi military base that has left hundreds of soldiers and civilians, both Saudi and American, dead. The team consists of Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), the head investigator and main liaison with the Saudi forces; Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), who excavates the blast site and looks for evidence; Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), who examines the bodies of the victims and perpetrators; and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman) who I honestly can’t remember doing a single thing except make jokes, but probably did have a purpose of some kind. They are assigned to work with Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), a Saudi colonel who is equal parts bodyguard, jailer, and likeminded colleague.

The going is slow during the first hour, both for the audience and for the characters. Since their visit is mostly unofficial, many of the most basic crime scene operations are unavailable to them. They cannot communicate with the soldiers or workers on the base; Mayes, being a woman, is unable to touch any of the Muslim bodies, which puts a crimp on her ability to perform autopsies; and they are only allowed the most cursory walkthrough of the blast site. But as the days wear on and progress is made, inch by inch, avenues start to open when they gain Al Ghazi’s trust and respect. It’s all tremendously well done, and, while slowly paced, never drags. The characters are given lots of room to live and breathe, develop relationships, and invest you in their story.

The second hour of The Kingdom switches gears as they begin to close in on the architects of the attack, particularly the suspected mastermind, Abu Hamza. As they draw closer, the action kicks in and the violence intensifies continually up through the film’s relentless, bloody end. It’s urban combat, loud and ugly. It doesn’t flinch, doesn’t let up, and doesn’t give a safety net for any of our heroes — all that character development really means they’re all just one bullet away from a wheezing death speech in the arms of their comrades. It’s also, unfortunately, where my attention was pretty well ripped off the screen and directed to the rest of the theater.

From all corners, there was clapping, cheering, hoots and hollers. Everything that would be perfectly appropriate if we were watching Rambo III. But we weren’t. If you’re paying attention between ammo clips, The Kingdom has a lot to say on war, people, intentions, and how quickly they can become confused. But that’s only if you’re paying attention, because it also never stoops so far as to fly its colors in your face. There’s no Oliver Stone or George Clooney proclaiming from on high: I AM MAKING A MESSAGE MOVIE, HEAR ME AND BE AMELIORATED, PLEBIANS. There’s only the trust that you didn’t just tune in for the explosions. I hate to think that trust has been misplaced.

I like action movies, and I like war movies, so I feel like I should be touting The Kingdom as an excellent example of both. The direction is sharp, the story is satisfying, the characters are fully-evolved, and the violence knows how to hurt — but there needs to be a difference between intensity and bloodlust, and I’m really not sure which The Kingdom is projecting onto the audience. I want to applaud the subtlety it uses to deliver its message, but can’t shake the conversations of the kids in the row behind us after the movie ended. It’s not fit to be printed here, but suffice it to say that the message was lost.

My mind keeps wandering to World War II cartoons, old, racist propaganda like “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap” and “Superman Versus the Japoteurs.” The Kingdom is neither racist nor propaganda and doesn’t deserve the comparison; I believe it is one of the best movies about today’s war that I’ve seen in several years. But I saw that exact same attitude of ignorance and shoot-‘em-up giddiness walk out of the theater right beside me in too many faces. This movie is too good not to recommend, but I can’t help wondering how many people out there are getting it and how many are sleeping through the first half and coasting through the second. Let’s just hope it’s my own little ignorant corner of the world.

Sue’s Rating: Your rogue tax dollars hard at work!

Sue’s Review: In some ways, The Kingdom reminded me very strongly of another moderately recent release, Children of Men. In both movies, the violence is quite realistic, there’s a pervasive sense of despair and hopelessness held by the majority of the population, the powers-that-be seem to be either completely uncaring or totally out of touch with reality, and when Bad Things happen, they happen with a suddenness that is appalling.

The difference is, Children of Men is portrayed as a dystopian future. The Kingdom is set now. Right now.

The story, in a nutshell, is that there is a terrorist attack on an enclave of American workers and their families living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The FBI, or at least the unit that Jamie Foxx runs, is gung-ho to go lend aid to — which is to say, take over — the ensuing criminal investigation. The Saudis decline. Arms are twisted, backs are gone behind, blackmail is in the air, and ba-da-bing, a group of four agents are allowed a few lousy days to go stare at a crater in the ground without touching anything by day and to get locked into a nice secure gymnasium at night. The Saudis, led by Colonel Faris Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom, by the way, is a marvelous actor!) aren’t nearly as worried about their counterparts from the great Satan messing up the investigation as much as they are that the FBI team represents a primo target for suicide bombers, kidnappers, angry people with AK-47’s and kids with rocks and pointed sticks. They are quite correct.

Of course, we’re talking about American agents and they don’t give a rancid rat’s patoot about what their justifiably concerned bodyguards tell them. They certainly aren’t going to worry about any lines they aren’t supposed to cross either. Once again, arms are twisted, a Saudi prince is schmoozed with and our heroes get to head up the investigation. Intrigue, violence and a whole lot of stepping on another culture’s core beliefs and traditions ensue.

In case you haven’t noticed, and if you haven’t, I do hope you come out of your coma soon, I have some negative vibes about the representation of the American FBI team. To be fair, I have equally negative vibes about their Saudi counterparts — with the exception of the aforementioned Col. Al-Ghazi. The American team, (ably acted by Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper, less ably acted by Jason Bateman, and barely-acted-at-all by Jennifer Garner), shows surprisingly little sensitivity for their hosts. They huff and roll their eyes when they’re told that a female non-believer can’t perform autopsies on, or even touch, the bodies of Muslims. They act all surprised when Al-Ghazi finally loses his cool and tells them to clean out their nasty little potty-mouths. They surreptitiously pocket evidence when they know they aren’t supposed to. Then they try to make it all right by telling anyone who will listen that Al-Ghazi is the go-to guy when it comes to investigative talent and golly gee whilickers they were just hanging around aimlessly when Al-Ghazi found this jim-dandy bit of key evidence. In other words, they lie.

Yes, this goes a long way toward repairing the national reputation of the U.S.A., doesn’t it? Sheesh.

Of course, the benefit of all doubts here is that if you look for it, there is a good lesson in this movie. Heavy handed and unsubtle, yes, but good. Friendship starts with cooperation, understanding and, above all, respect. Let’s get Aretha in here and sing it together, shall we? Besides, Chris Cooper plays a curmudgeonly investigator like no one’s business. Think CSI’s Gus Grissom would go wading around in a crater of goo shouting obscenities? Noooo, Grissom would send Nick or Warrick to do his dirty work for him. (Unless there was some kind of rare corpse-munching roach species involved.) But I’m digressing, aren’t I?

In any case, I’m sort of in Al’s camp on this movie. It’s good. It didn’t do great box office, and it’ll probably run down the slippery slope into the five buck bin at Wallly World, but it’s a solid movie. Probably one of the (sadly) most realistic ones you can find. Well, up to a point anyway.

Professionals were on the case. Bugs Bunny's days were numbered.

Professionals were on the case. Bugs Bunny’s days were numbered.

Intermission!

 

  • Jennifer Garner collapsed on the set in Phoenix twice due to the extremely high temperature, over 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Leavitt’s Pixies t-shirt?
  • Rule of War Movies #1: When you see anyone, especially children, playing a harmless game of baseball, run the other way.
  • Director Peter Berg is one of the FBI agents at the briefing about the al-Rahmah attack at the Washington DC Field Office

 

Groovy Quotes

Leavitt: What’s it like over there?
Sykes: A bit like Mars.
Leavitt: Sounds like I didn’t pack right.

Sykes: You’re contaminating evidence! Do you understand evidence? Little things called clues. Clues can be very helpful to a fella trying to solve a crime.

Al Ghazi: You’re not safe at night!
Sykes: Oh, you mean we’re safe during the day, huh?

Damon Schmidt: Can we dial down the boobies?

Sykes: Gotta get dirty! Nasty filthy!

Al Ghazi: When we find the man who murdered these people — who kidnapped your friend. I do not care to ask even one question. Do you understand?

Fleury [to Al Ghazi, as he prepares to speak with an ex-jihadi]: Does he know where Bin Laden is? Because that would be great.

Bomb Maker: Every bomb maker gets bitten at some point by his own work.

If you liked this movie, try these:

 

  • Jarhead
  • Navy S.E.A.L.s
  • The Bourne Supremacy

 

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