I tend to get my guard up whenever I go into the theater to see a movie like The Kingdom. I always expect an overdose of political activism or some other jaded point of view that the writer and/or director wants to stuff down my throat. This, I believe, is the second such movie that I’ve seen that takes a volatile subject and bypasses the obvious pitfalls and just presents an intense drama without any unwanted or unneeded baggage (the first being Black Hawk Down).
The volatile subject is terrorism and how it affects the West’s relationship with the Middle East. The Kingdom starts with a simple yet profound time line of attacks and retaliations which lead up to a daytime attack in a Western housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Killed with the gunfire and explosions are scores of woman, children and first responders. This leads to an outcry in the United States, especially within the ranks of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as they have lost agents in the blast . Of course due to bureaucracy and the tenderness of the situation, the State Department deems the situation off limits. Screw red tape though . . .
Leading the charge into Saudi Arabia is Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), along with agents Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman) and Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper). Each of them bring a level of expertise to investigating a crime scene that the Saudi officials could only dream of. Upon their arrival they’re confronted with additional problems — lack of communication, lack of understanding Muslim traditions and the will of their babysitter, Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom). While the movie has some very biting action scenes, the crux of the movie is really within the relationship between the U.S. envoy (especially Fleury) and Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (among other Saudi officials).
In most cases, a movie that most of the viewing public suspects is going to be an action-packed adventure would fail miserably. The Kingdom manages to work because, the director, Peter Berg expertly captures the moment with vivid camera shots and gets great performances from his cast. The action sequences are extremely lifelike and disturbing. Sure I’ve seen countless footage of suicide bombing aftermaths, but I’ve not had the displeasure of seeing what one would actually look like. And let me tell you something, it is frightening. I was especially unnerved with the Nick Berg like scenes (even though I’ve actually seen the real footage) — watching the entire moment evolve before your eyes is quite the adrenaline booster.
As for performances, there isn’t a bad one in the bunch, even though some are better than others. Near the top of the list sits Jamie Foxx with another convincing characterization (Ray being his first). His character starts the movie gung-ho for revenge but by the end he’s a changed man with a whole new outlook on life. Chris Cooper is always a damn good straight man — he plays no nonsense, gritty roles very well — and his portrayal of Grant Sykes is par for course. I didn’t expect much from Jennifer Garner or Jason Bateman but both of them kept up their end of the bargain. It was good to see Garner hadn’t forgotten how to kick ass since giving birth. The top prize however, goes to Ashraf Barhom for the fantastic job he does as a Saudi officer straddling the line between what he believes and what he is told to believe. I see a Best Supporting Actor nod coming his way.
In the end, The Kingdom opened my eyes to several things I had never paid much attention to, while it remained mostly impartial and entertaining. It makes the point that by perhaps changing one individuals’ mind, many more people may be influenced as well. I’m certainly not one to preach, but the prospect of that may indeed be better than shooting everyone who sees events from a different perspective (although I believe anyone willing to kill innocent people should not be reasoned with). See the movie and decide for yourself.