Reel Reviews

The Kingdom



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</script></div>{/googleAds}In today's unstable climate of global terrorism and with American troops currently deployed in foreign lands, it's a risky proposition for Hollywood to set a mainstream action thriller about a suicide bombing, in the immediate context of the Middle East. After all, even Hollywood has places it won't go and things it won't do. But apparently this isn't one of them. Then again, the makers of The Kingdom don't attempt to place blame nor point fingers, so subsequently, the film is never offensive in what it has to say... real, but not offensive. In fact, director Peter Berg and writer Matthew Michael Carnahan, keep it completely apolitical, yet still manage to create an atmosphere of unease and discomfort. They wanted The Kingdom to be both an intellectual drama AND an exciting actioner. But even though they missed on the intellectual part, the action is strong enough to make the whole experience an exhilarating thrill ride that also sheds an all-too-real light on what the world faces with terrorism.

The uncomfortable tone of the film is set almost immediately as it opens with an informative credit sequence that lays out the tenuous history of Saudi-American relations, then quickly transitions to a Saudi Arabian housing complex for American oil workers and their families. The peace is suddenly shattered when a suicide bomber blows himself up leaving 100 dead and scores injured. The visuals of the explosion itself are all too real as body parts and deadly metal shards whiz past the camera. The resulting chaos, that reminds us of the streets of Manhattan after the 9/11 bombings, is further affected as a second bomb explodes, cruelly timed to kill rescue workers.

An FBI team, led by agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) is prepared to investigate the tragedy, but diplomatic sensitivities - involving the contentious idea of American agents on Saudi soil - threaten the investigation until diplomatic strings are pulled, giving the team 5 days to capture the killers.

Once in Saudi Arabia (actually the deserts of Arizona and The United Arab Emirates), Fleury's investigation is again delayed, this time due to squabbling between Saudi police and military, both of which try to limit the Americans' access as much as possible so as to not enrage an already distrustful populace. Fleury is accompanied by explosives expert Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), intelligence agent Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), and forensics examiner Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner). We also meet a couple of Saudi officers, including Col. Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), whose job it is to make sure the American investigative team leaves as low a profile as possible. In other words, the Saudis want the Americans in and out quickly with as little visibility as possible.

Fleury and Al Ghazi maintain a tentative business relationship as each tiptoes around issues paramount to each other's interests. But as the investigation continues, the mutual friendship the two build becomes one of the stronger aspects of the story. We learn that Al Ghazi has children and is as affected by the murders as Fleury, and is equally dedicated to solving it. That Middle Easterners view terrorism with equal repugnance and disgust as do Americans is an important fact that's reflected in the relationship between Fleury and Al Ghazi. It's easy for us Americans to sit in our Lazy Boys and proclaim that all "people over there" are terrorists. That's not only ignorant, but dangerous. And Barhom's Al Ghazi effectively reminds us of this.

The murder investigation plays out like an episode of CSI: Riyadh with the tedious tasks of reconstructing the crime scene and piecing together the thousands of bits of shrapnel and truck parts. It's extremely disturbing to see the tactics and materials these terrorists deploy to strike with maximum efficiency. A child's jack or marble can double as a deadly projectile, and an ambulance is never off-limits as a secretive means of delivering explosives. Even though Berg stumbles a bit with many of the messages he tries to convey including a final scene that reeks of heavy-handedness - he hits big with the Wow! factor. He clearly knows how to stage an action sequence and his depiction of the danger and insecurity in that part of the world is strong enough to carry the entire film. No matter which side of the war-on-terror fence you sit, the power The Kingdom packs can't be denied. It's really not about culture, politics, or even terrorism. It's about Americans and Arabs working together in the right way.


DVD

DVD Details:

Such a powerful and pertinent film deserves an equally attentive treatment on the DVD side of the experience. But unfortunately, the commentary is too dull and the features too sparse to warrant a high recommendation.

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1

Subtitles: None

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access.

* Commentary - Feature-length audio commentary with director Peter Berg.
* Deleted Scenes - A total of 11:07 of footage that didn't make the final cut.
* Featurettes
o Character by Character: The Apartment Shootout (13:41)
o Constructing the the Freeway Sequence (18:18)
o Creating the Kingdom (35:34)
o History of The Kingdom: An Interactive Timeline

Number of discs: - 1- Keepcase Packaging

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