|Jamie Foxx||Ronald Fleury|
|Jennifer Garner||Janet Mayes|
|Christ Cooper||Grant Sykes|
|Jason Bateman||Adam Leavitt|
|Jeremy Piven||Damon Schmidt|
|Richard Jenkins||James Grace|
|Ashraf Barhom||Kolonel Ar Ghazi|
|Directed by||Peter Berg|
The Kingdom is a thoughtful, philosophical movie, rife with trenchant observations on the world we live in. Chief among these observations is that when you pack together a lot of explosives and set them off, they go BOOM!!!
There’s a lot more to it, of course. The movie explores such phenomena as the vivid splattering of blood and gristle at the intersection of bullets with heads and bodies, the curious parasailing effect that occurs when cars are blown up at high speeds, how they fly through the air and tumble and bounce in balletic slow motion before coming at last to rest. Then there is the movie’s case for the brotherhood of man, the ways in which despite our differences, we are all really much the same underneath. If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you torture us, do we not scream? If you riddle us with automatic weapons fire, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
But before waxing too ironic, it’s fair to state up front that director Peter Berg, producer Michael Mann, and screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan, with invaluable contributions from cinematographer Mario Fiore and editors Colby Parker Jr and Kevin Stitt, have put together a highly entertaining, viscerally compelling, slam-bang action thriller. This movie is a lot of fun to watch, if this kind of thing is your cup of tea, and even though you’re aware of the forcedness of some of the situations and dialogue while you’re watching, chances are you won’t dwell on such details until after you’ve left the theater and caught your breath. We don’t really go to Bourne movies or Rambo movies or Terminator movies for the subtleties. We ask of them only pulse-pounding excitement, lots of explosions, lots of running and hitting and blood and danger, and a couple of memorable lines to relieve the tension. So when Jamie Foxx observes to Chris Cooper that he probably buys his clothes and his car batteries at the same place, or when the good guys are invading the terrorist stronghold under a hail of bullets as thick as couscous and the Saudi cop says “This is a very bad neighborhood” and Cooper drawls “No shit,” we are satisfied.
The movie starts with a short survey course on the history of Saudi Arabia (the kingdom of the title) and its relationship with the West. This is succinct and informative, and done in an arresting graphic style, and it’s all tucked in before the main title credits. The movie proper opens with a peaceful all-American scene of a softball game and barbeque. It could, as an American congressman recently observed of the marketplaces in Baghdad, be happening in Indiana in the summertime. But it’s not, it’s behind the heavily guarded walls of an American compound in Riyadh, and it’s soon awash in blood while the terrorist mastermind and his family watch through binoculars from a nearby rooftop.
One of the dead is an FBI agent. Now it’s personal. Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Foxx) wants to take an elite team to the kingdom and nail the evildoers. But there are evildoers at home to get past first, most notably a weasely, politically-motivated U.S. Attorney General (Danny Huston). But a little blackmail on the Saudi Ambassador does the trick, and Fleury gets the green light for a five-day mission.
He assembles his team. Who would you take on a sensitive gig like that to investigate a massacre in a Muslim country, if you wanted to keep a low profile and get some work done? Well, a beautiful woman in a tee shirt, of course – forensics expert Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner). And a wisecracking Jewish explosives maven (Jason Bateman). And the laconic Chris Cooper, because he’s always good to have around.
The Saudis for some reason do not welcome them warmly. They are placed in the care of Saudi police Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (the excellent Ashraf Barhom, who played a suicide bomber in Paradise Now). His instructions are to keep them away from the action and send them home in one piece, or it’s his neck. But we know Fleury and his team won’t stand for that. It’s clear that these Saudis don’t have a clue how to collect evidence or round up the usual suspects. All we see them accomplish is the vicious torture beating of a suspect who turns out to be innocent. Before you can say “Allah akhbar,” our guys are off the reservation, with the sporting Al Ghazi following gamely along, and they’ve uncovered evidence which will lead them right into the belly of the terrorist beast.
When it’s got the pedal to the metal, which is a substantial fraction of the running time, The Kingdom delivers the goods. And that is no small accomplishment. Berg and his boys know how to keep our blood aboil and our fannies forward in our seats. When they slow things down to wax humanistic, to show us that Arabs are good family men, just like Americans, they abandon the entertainment high ground. The message is good, and the filmmakers deliver the worthy moral that as long as we keep trying to solve our problems by killing each other this madness will never stop.
But all of that is weak tea compared to a good explosion.
© Text 2007 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be
© Pictures 2007 Universal Studios