Patriotic Movie Month: "The Kingdom"

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Rating: R
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: September 28, 2007
Directed by: Peter Berg
Genre: Action / Drama / Thriller

An exhilarating tale, "The Kingdom" tells the story of a hunt for terrorists in Saudi Arabia. With a star-studded cast that includes Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx, Jason Bateman and Jeremy Piven, the film is a non-stop thrill ride that keeps viewers on the edges of their seats from the opening scene to the end credits.

"The Kingdom" opens on a seemingly innocuous softball game in Saudi Arabia. A mix of Saudi nationals and Americans are playing happily when they are brutally interrupted by a terrorist attack. A car full of gunmen and a suicide bomber unleash their wrath on the group, killing several and wounding others. After a second bomb kills two FBI special agents, the agency assembles a task force to head to Saudi Arabia and conduct an investigation into the attack.

Led by Ronald Fleury (Foxx), the team lands only to find a tense situation on the ground. After the American team is forbidden from participating in the investigation, Fleury convinces officials to allow a Saudi colonel, Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom) to lead them. Accompanied by forensic expert Grant Sykes (Grant Cooper) and agents Adam Leavitt (Bateman) and Janet Mayes (Garner), Fleury and Al Ghazi venture breathlessly into the world of international terrorism. Jeremy Piven makes an appearance as an irritating embassy employee who does nothing to help the process.

What follows is a terrifying look into the intricate network of terrorists across Saudi Arabia. After a tense search and an explosion-filled climax, viewers are treated to a satisfactory — if not happy — conclusion that leaves them thinking long after the final credits roll.

"The Kingdom" explores the issue of terrorism in a different, less cerebral way than its predecessor "Syriana." Instead of exploring the details of complex plots against American citizens, "The Kingdom" is fast and furious, focusing instead on the ground-level violence that is a reality for many in the Middle East. It gives viewers a highly charged look into the harsh environment and frustrations of Riyadh, creating a fictional world designed to reflect reality. The result is satisfying and endlessly thrilling.

With its intense action scenes and countless explosions, "The Kingdom" is a delight for lovers of action films. Director Peter Berg, who previously worked on "Friday Night Lights," proves himself a master of the fast-paced plot and carefully planned violence. The suspenseful tone of the story is reflected in the editing, which is both clean and efficient. Each scene moves seamlessly into the next, creating the sense of slightly out-of-control forward motion that serves the plot well. As a result, viewers do not have time for complacency as they are whisked through the intense world of terrorism investigation in the Middle East.

The cast, which is loaded with big-name actors who boast equally big talents, delivers excellent performances all around. Foxx is entirely believable as the quintessential good guy, supplementing his matter-of-fact delivery with flexed muscles and tight facial expressions. He has strong chemistry with his Saudi Arabian counterpart, played with aplomb by the immensely capable Ashraf Barhom. Jennifer Garner, as the token woman on the investigation team, fits well into the role of FBI agent. She brings all of her acting talents to bear for her character, who moves between steely determination and heart-wrenching grief at the loss of her friend and colleague. Grant Cooper brings just the right touch of comic relief as the down-home Sykes. His goofy character contrasts nicely with Jason Bateman's clowning, adding much-needed levity to the bleakest scenes in the film.

"The Kingdom" also benefits from scene-stealing performances by the supporting cast. Jeremy Piven, in particular, shines as Damon Schmidt, the ever-annoying presence from the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia. His constant intervention and interruption creates a current of frustration that adds to the intensity of the film, building tension right up until the culmination of the action. He embodies the role with glee, giving a performance that is entirely believable.

The barren landscape and dark corners of Saudi Arabia act as a separate character in the film, informing every scene and guiding the action. The oppressive heat and the gloom of terrifying terrorist hideouts create a mood that has an element of desperation. The film's cinematographers capture the scenery beautifully, showing it off in all its stark glory.

"The Kingdom" is a fantasy of a terrorism investigation gone right. When the film ends, it is with a wistfulness that a similar conclusion could have been reached in reality. Despite this drawback, the film is a resounding success, particularly in the new tradition of Middle East war movies.