Tuesday, 25 September 2007
The Kingdom (2007) dir. Peter Berg
Starring; Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman
Opening this Friday is “The Kingdom” - the latest in a series of topical films addressing the issue of American occupation in the Middle East. It tells the story of a group of FBI rogues who investigate a terrorist attack on an unsuspecting American village in Saudi Arabia. “The Kingdom” wants to be several films, and doesn’t quite decide which one until the end. It works best as a plain old action film. The politics of the film are naive, and in fact, only furthers the negative reputation of America as new world imperialists. But never-the-less, if you’re not offended by it, you may actually enjoy it.
The film opens with a brilliant Oliver Stone-style montage summarizing the modern history of Saudi Arabia. Director Peter “Friday Night Lights” Berg uses archival footage and archival narration to show us how the conflict over Saudi oil began and evolved. The narrator changes as the years change, ending with the familiar voice of A&E’s Bill Curtis bringing us into the present. Then we see the tragic terrorist attack on the American community in Saudi Arabia. Berg shoots it like an action scene and makes sure to show us the brutality of the violence. Men, women and children all die indiscriminately. To the American authorities back home, the massacre is a mystery. The terrorists were dressed as Saudi police, who were supposed to be on their side. The political implications of putting American military boots on Saudi sand are too great and so, Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) assembles a rogue task force to investigate. His team consists of military forensic experts played by Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman and Chris Cooper. The Saudi official assigned to watch over the Americans is Colonel Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum) who slowly but surely learns the go-hard-or-go-home ways of the Americans and helps them unlock the mystery.
At a time of high negative opinion of American interference in the Middle East, the depiction of the Saudis Officials are antiquated, naïve and somewhat appalling. The Saudis are portrayed as backward, stupid, and incompetent. The Americans have no respect for the Muslim culture either. The Ambassador aide played by Jeremy Piven says to Jennifer Garner’s character when she meets the Saudi Prince for the time to “cover up your boobies.” The Americans roll their eyes in confusion. You have to be living under a rock these days not to know the customs of the Arabs. The Americans never attempt to learn, get to know, or even want to respect the 1000 years of Muslim culture, they just want to get their man by whatever means necessary – which is the reason they’re in the mess in the first place. Watch “A Mighty Heart” and you’ll see a much better example of a credible and realistic portrayal of a similar situation. In that film, the Pakistani police are actually smarter than the Americans.
“The Kingdom” send mixed tones until the third act. By the opening sequence, it feels like a political/Oliver Stone-type film. After the terrorist attack, we see a whole host of politicians played by some of the best character actors working today. For fear of complicating the audience we are given character's names and titles superimposed on the screen. So, then it feels like a “Syriana/Traffic” multi-layered political story. But all these politicians are excised from the story once Jamie Foxx’s team gets to Saudi Arabia. The film then becomes an investigative procedural/forensic film, with some comic relief supplied by Jason Bateman. In the third act it becomes a Ridley Scott action film at the end, with an overdose of close ups of children eyes to pull our heart strings and justify the carnage.
Peter Berg is good at the action, and this is how you should watch the film. The film could have been dreadful if not for the big rousing final action sequence which is a big old rush of adrenaline revenge. Michael Mann was one of the producers and his influence on these last 20mins is felt. Berg doesn’t spare the gore or graphicness of the deaths. In the final moments Berg gives the audience that cathartic fuck you to the Al Qaeda terrorists that just might have them cheering in their seats. If you haven’t left the cinema yet, you will be cheering. Enjoy.