The Kingdom (2007)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman, Jeremy Piven, Richard Jenkins, Danny Huston
Directed by: Peter Berg
This movie was originally slated to be released back in April and then was pushed back to September after positive responses from test audiences made Universal think it had awards potential. I remember seeing previews for it earlier in the year and thinking that it looking like another tiresome Middle East war movie, similar to 2006’s quickly forgotten Home of the Brave, trying to capitalize on the war in Iraq. It didn’t help that I’ve grown to find star Jamie Foxx‘s irrepressible egotism incredibly tiresome (although, the presence of Jason Bateman did intrigue me, as I so want him to succeed).
But since it was pushed back for awards consideration, and since there wasn’t much else to go see when the sneak preview for this was showing, I decided to give it a shot. Along with Bateman, the movie is also directed by Peter Berg, who is quickly gaining a soft spot in my heart with his work on Friday Night Lights (the movie also features FNL alums Kyle Chandler, Minka Kelly, and Brooke Langton in small roles), and features the always-solid Chris Cooper, the pleasing Jennifer Garner, and Six Feet Under‘s Richard Jenkins, so I had reason enough to go see it. Plus, while Foxx himself is tiresome, his performances are often pretty good.
Sadly, my initial instinct back at the beginning of the year proved to be more accurate than any recent awards buzz. It’s not a terrible movie, but it is rather average, and far too simplistic to tackle the issues it brings up.
The movie is a fictionalized account based on two bombings in Saudi Arabia on American compounds. In the movie, a suicide bombing attack on an American compound in Riyadh, which left hundreds of American civilians dead, leads the FBI to send an elite unit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to investigate the attacks and hopefully apprehend those behind the attack. Led by Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Foxx), the four FBI agents (including Garner, Cooper, and Bateman) encounter difficulties in their pursuit including culture shock, rival Saudi intelligence agencies, and hostilities from the populace over their presence.
With his work in both the film and television versions of Friday Night Lights, Peter Berg has established a signature look to his pictures that’s on display here, heavy on handheld cameras that puts the audience into each seen as an active viewer. It largely works in this picture, giving it a kinetic feel. Where Berg fails is in employing his now-familiar sentiment to the film as well, bringing in musical cues and personal moments more at home in small-town Texas football fields than in the desert of Saudi Arabia. The result is a movie that feels like a cross between Syrianna and Friday Night Lights, an overly manipulative movie that requires more gravitas than perhaps Berg is capable of.
As a geopolitical examination of Middle East tensions, The Kingdom falls flat. It plays like a dumbed down version of the ongoing conflicts in the region, stripped of nuance to make it more palatable for a larger audience. This is not a think-piece at all, and in fact, goes out of its way to avoid challenging the audience at all. Everything follows through to its predictable end, with an incredibly facile and misplaced sentimentality attached to it to dumb it down further.
That said, as an action movie, The Kingdom ain’t half bad. The movie begins and ends quite explosively, with a tense final act that should have you on the edge of your seat. Here, Berg’s talents pay off, delivering a relatively satisfying duel between good guys and bad guys amongst a hail of explosions and automatic weapons fire.
Ultimately, the action in the movie, along with decent performances by the main cast, keep it from being a failure. There’s definitely some value in The Kingdom as a kick-ass action movie, but given its setting and timing, it needed to be more than that to be considered a success.