From the moment The Kingdom begins, with its slick media presentation delivering a timeline history of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, you know that it is going to be a different kind of action thriller.
In the aftermath of a vicious terrorist attack on a western compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, FBI special agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) is desperate to get his forensic team into the country to investigate the situation. But international relations with the kingdom are tense. The Saudis want to handle things on their own, fearful that allowing more Americans will result in more attacks.
But Fleury is persistent and, through creative negotiations, eventually obtains permission to land in Riyadh with his forensic team: Grant (Chris Cooper), Janet (Jennifer Garner) and Adam (Jason Bateman). Once there, the group is immediately hampered by cultural differences and international posturing. Their only saving grace is their minder, Colonel Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), whom they must learn to trust if they are going to survive long enough to find the jihadist murderers responsible for the attack.
From the violent repercussions of explosions and the horrendous wrenching of twisting car-crashed metal to the fear and determination on the actors faces, Kingdom is unrelenting.
Director Peter Berg, much like producer Michael Mann, effectively utilizes close-up techniques to deftly capture the emotions of this story. Cinematographer Mauro Fiore broadens the films stunning visual appeal with a style that is open and real; a look neither too theatrical nor too television-news cameraman.
Foxx carries himself well throughout the film. His range is small, providing a stoicism balanced by much needed moments of quick comic relief. Cooper and Garner are solid too, as is Bateman, who gives a heart-wrenching performance by films end. But it is Barhom who nearly steals the show with a performance that amazingly never delves too far into melodrama.
With a script by Matthew Carnahan that is sometimes simple and contrived, it is Bergs unflinching, almost apolitical, acknowledgment of current events that elevates Kingdom to greatness.
As the action sequences are exploding before your eyes, you are aware that the characters are experiencing it as you or I would; which is to say, in a post-9/11 world. This reflexively causes you to identify more readily with the characters and their situations be they American or Saudi.
This, ultimately, is Bergs point. Wrapped up in a brutal action picture, he wants audiences to experience the parallels between Americans and Saudis: family, anger, fear, patriotism. He wants people to realize how grief fuels anger on both sides.
Impressively, Berg does this without any pretentious hippie Hollywood notions of complexity. No poetic musings on the immorality of war, just the stark acknowledgment that bad (radicalized) elements exist among the larger, human elements of each side. Simple, sure, but nevertheless true.
Taken in as a whole, Kingdom feels like a punch to the gut. The characters perspectives coupled with the constant buffeting of startling violence and remarkable stunt choreography literally knocks the emotional breath out of you.
Though it may get tough to watch at times, it is so well-orchestrated that you cannot help but appreciate it. Especially when viewed as a 21st century-minded update of the blithely gung-ho 80s films of Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger. A welcome new breed of action thriller that puts as much stock in geo-politics and character as it does action.
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