“I said we were going to kill them all.”
Rated R. Out on DVD. Directed by Peter Berg. Written by Matthew Carnahan. Starring Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman & Jeremy Piven.
It’s rare to find a big-budget Hollywood action film that has aspirations to be something more, and while it fails to hit the mark, at least The Kingdom tries. It tackles a politically volatile issue — American relations with Saudi Arabia — and the repercussions of a terrorist attack on their soil.
The film opens with a cool credit sequence of highlighting a lot of the important events in modern Middle Eastern history that have shaped American-Saudi relations. That is followed by a terrific opening sequence, a visceral staging of a terrorist attack that’s as electric as it is gruesome. The attack on Americans living in Saudi Arabia leads to the eventual deployment of a FBI investigation team led by Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) to try and solve the case. Naturally, they run into problems with the Saudi authorities.
Director Peter Berg is best known as an actor, but also for directing the movie Friday Night Lights and creating the TV version (Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly) make appearances). He brings a lot of the same hand-held, fly-on-the-wall, documentary style filmmaking to this project and it works very well. Berg is a very talented director and I’d love to see him get a better script to work with.
The problem with The Kingdom is that it’s not quite sure what type of film it wants to be. It’s not really an action movie except for the opening and closing scenes, and the middle seem like a version of CSI. There are also a couple of throwaway Washington politicking scenes that bring nothing to the table. Without getting into great detail about the climactic setpiece, it feels very derivative of Heat or Black Hawk Down with a little too much video-game type action to seem believable.
Foxx is solid but not completely convincing. Garner is okay and obviously, for cinematic purposes they wanted a female lead, but let’s be realistic, we’re probably not going to send a female agent to Saudi Arabia — that’s just asking for trouble. While I like Cooper’s past work and I don’t want to say anything bad about Michael Bluth, I mean Jason Bateman, both the characters are one-dimensional and annoying. Piven is nothing but a distraction, channeling Ari Gold with a bad dye job.
Perhaps as overcompensation to avoid being politically incorrect, the most sympathetic and well-rounded characters are the two Saudis, Colonel Faris (Ashraf Barhom) and Sergeant Haytham (Ali Suliman). Barhom in particular gives an excellent performance and the strongest part of the movie was the relationship between his character and Foxx’s.
The Kingdom has a good look, a couple of cool scenes and powerful moments, including the finale, but ultimately it falls short of being important.