Review: The Kingdom

The Kingdom Quad

I’ll start by saying the marketing in general, but especially the trailer for new film ‘The Kingdom’ is fucking terrible. I don’t know exactly which demographic it’s trying to hit, or goals it’s attempting to fill… but it misses them all. The fact is if I wasn’t aware of director Peter Berg’s previous work then no amount of star power or cars exploding in the aforementioned trailer would draw me in. Peter Berg is a ‘that guy’, a long time actor turned director who’s face you probably wouldn’t be able to associate with a name, but when you see him you remember him from lots of things. You remember him mainly as cops, FBI agents or other such man-in-suit types. Berg is making much more of an impression on me as a director than he ever did as an actor.

Berg’s previous film was ‘Friday Night Lights’ a great movie about a small town American football team trying to “take it to state”. He infused that film with a realism and emotional weight that few directors can get right. Berg pulled that trick out of the bag with ‘The Kingdom’ too, making it feel realistic, tense and exciting yet deftly side-steps cliche and pointless dramatics.

The subject matter of ‘The Kingdom’ was never going to be an easy sell; the bombing of an American compound in Saudi Arabia by Islamic militants, and the subsequent investigation to track down the culprits by an FBI team (Jamie Fox, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman and Chris Cooper). It would almost have been easier for the film to focus on the middle-east issue and become a political thriller, but that would have been a different film. The film would have quickly become mired in explaining the countries complex problems within the space of 90 minutes.

‘The Kingdom’ is not a political thriller, and while the backdrop is Saudi Arabia and the villains of the piece are Islamic fundamentalists it only ever explains enough about the situation to move the plot along at a steady pace. Elements like Islamic religion’s treatment of women, the Saudi Monarchy and American oil investment are touched upon, but only to give a context and set-up the environment in which the action is carried out.

The action reminded me a lot of the ‘bourne’ films, frequently switching between tight-close-ups, quickly moving shaky-cam and long-shots of the action. It’s a style of filming that never really gets old for me and gives scenes a frenetic quality that had me gripping the seat like a stroke-victim. The tour-de-force being a 25 minute car chase and shoot-out that called to mind the computer game ‘black’ in it’s almost unrelenting nature.

Jamie Foxx often sits on my ‘want-to-hate-him-but-can’t-because-he-is-actually-talented’ list next to Leonardo DiCaprio, but does turn in a good performance, next to a forgettable Jennifer Garner the always reliable Chris Cooper. Jason Bateman is the comic relief and portrays smart-ass about as well as anyone I’ve ever seen. Despite all the Hollywood talent on display the stand-out performance is from relative unknown Ashraf Barhom playing Colonel Al Ghazi, the police officer assigned to assist the FBI team.

Despite my praise, the film isn’t without it’s problems, the script often sidesteps cliche and sentimentality, but on the odd occasion doesn’t step far enough; Jame Foxx talking about ‘bad men’ with his son, searching for the bomb makers by looking for men without fingers and Jennifer Garner doing here ‘disgruntled’ face one too many times all started to grind on me after a while. The ‘end note’ was also heavy handed and felt out of place in a movie that I felt had cleverly dodged preaching to me throughout most of it’s duration.

The Kingdom is by no means a perfect film, and if you go in expecting a ‘political’ film in the vein of Syriana you’ll be sadly disappointed. If you enter expecting to see an interesting thriller and some decent action you’ll get what you paid for.

2 Responses

  1. My entire thought process behind seeing it was “Peter Berg and Michael Mann restage Heat in the middle of Saudi Arabia? Sign me up”. And I was not disappointed. I think if I was looking for anything besides that I would’ve been.

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