– Summary –
Director : Peter Berg
Year Of Release : 2007
Principal Cast : Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman, Jeremy Piven, Richard Jenkins, Tim McGraw, Kyle Chandler, Frances Fisher, Danny Huston, Minka Kelly.
Approx Running Time : 109 Minutes
Synopsis: A team of FBI Agents investigates a terrorist attack on a foreign-workers compound in Saudi Arabia.
What we think : Potentially incendiary premise is handled with grandiose flair and little subtlety in Peter Berg’s The Kingdom. While the cast gamely do their best, the script lacks balance, instead trying to paint The USA as the only country worth fighting for (ugh). Worth one look, but not quite the classic it pretends to be.
I have to say, I was a little dubious about watching The Kingdom, for all the hype and generally positive reviews this film had garnered. I was less than impressed with director Peter Bergs previous outing, Friday Night Lights, and had hoped that the frivolous exuberance expounded in Welcome To The Jungle (known as The Rundown in the USA) had been somewhat tempered with a more sensible visual ethic in what was always going to be a serious piece of work.
The Kingdom certainly kicks off with a bang. Opening with a snappy timeline of Middle East oil development, and the USA’s reliance upon it, it takes us from the early 1930’s right up until 9/11 (complete with solemn satellite view of Manhattan on that day included) and today, with prices skyrocketing and the global power shift once more on the agenda.
After a terrorist attack on US oil conglomerate employees living in a special compound in Saudi Arabia, in which many civilians and a large number of investigative agents are killed, the FBI takes umbrage at a seeming lack of cooperation by local security forces and police, and sends a team to the country in order to find the perpetrators.
While this may seem like typical gung-ho American “we can do what we like when it happens to our people” attitude, you hope against hope that the film will rise above that theme, but, by the time the film ends, you’re feelings are entirely justified. Jamie Foxx delivers a somewhat neutered performance (by his standards) as the lead agent of the team sent to Saudi Arabia. His character is hard to empathize with, due perhaps to his grumpy nature on screen: this results in a flawed, and slightly uneven characterization, something not conducive to audience enjoyment. The rest of the cast fare worse than this, though. Jennifer Garner is reduced to minimal screen time and minimal impact, her actual role in the film a little obscured by the overtly boys-own-adventure being cooked up. The best she can manage is a little lollipop sucking to ease the pain of a sheer lack of on screen chemistry with anything happening around her. Chris Cooper manages to be weirdly kooky, seemingly without explanation, and the only one apparently enjoying their time in the film is the very funny Jason Bateman, whom audiences have recently seen in the newly released Hancock.
The film rattles along under the banner of “we must do what is right” but sinks under a patriotic plethora of chest thumping and PC handshaking between characters who have very little in common, and even less in motivation. While obviously striving for drama and D&M motivations, the film ends up being… well, being just another American action film. And while this is certainly not a bad thing in and of itself, considering the way the film started and the wonderful hook going into the first ten minutes, it badly let’s itself down by the time the confusing and climactic conclusion take place.
Berg seems intent on maximising his closeups and minimising the use of wide shots. His camera, in a similar vein to Friday Night Lights, keeps a very, very close zoom up on the actors faces, enjoying the vicarious thrill of seeing the very pores on Foxx’s nose for minutes at a time. While this visceral camerawork will obfuscate a lack of actual characterization for reality, it wears thin after a while and the viewer is slowly but surely distanced from the story by overtly showy focus and lens opportunities. Some of the action sequences, it must be mentioned, are first rate, and The Kingdom is certainly highly rated in terms of the epic and realistic nature of the violence it portrays, however, with a limited background of characters to work with, the violence becomes merely a plot device, rather than something to advance the story.
To be honest, the most annoying thing about the whole film is the sheer arrogance of the US forces in the way they come across in a foreign country; they continue to act like they have every right to be there, they should behave and do whatever they want, and we, the viewer, should be motivated into thinking that hey, perhaps they should, when this is so obviously not true. This, to me, is the films biggest downfall, and it’s ultimate flaw. I would say that those who enjoy a solid piece of action filmmaking from a director capable of handling large scale set-pieces (the highway highjacking sequence in particular ranks pretty high on the rewind scale) and visceral limb-rending violence, then this is a perfect Saturday night for you. For those trying to find meaning to why fuel prices are going up, perhaps this is not your explanation. Its entertaining, but ultimately, so flawed that it’s hard to take seriously.
I would recommend this only to a degree that the film fails to reach the heights to which it aspired; if you can get past the blatant jingoistic US-isms, you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more.