Skip to content

The Fashionably Late Review: The Kingdom

October 4, 2009

(Ed. note: The Fashionably Late Review is a critique of a film released in the last two years — with spoilers, so it can be appropriately reviewed in its entirety. So be warned. If you really wanted to see the following film, you’d have seen it by now.)

The one thing I heard about The Kingdom (2007) from friends who had seen it is that the first scene was absolutely brutal.  They’re wrong.  The first “scene” is a graphics-laden news -clip montage history of the petro-political relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.  This led me to believe I would be watching Syriana again, with maybe some interesting insights thrown in.  What I got, however, was essentially CSI: Riyadh.

The scene to which I referred in the first sentence is brutal—a several-minute-long sequence where gunmen and a suicide bomber infiltrate a highly-guarded compound in Riyadh and kill as many Americans as possible.  During the aftermath, Saudi and American officials try to secure the scene when a secondary explosion kills scores, including a respected FBI agent.  This turns into a sticky situation, because the FBI wants into Saudi Arabia (the kingdom in question) to investigate but neither the Saudis nor the U.S. government wants them there.  After the predictable inter-departmental squabbles, Agent Fleury (Jamie Foxx) has to play hardball to get his team inside.

Foxx and his supporting cast perform ably, but they’re not given much to do.  Nearly every character is an exhausted, static stereotype: Foxx as the hard-driving, unflappable team leader; Jennifer Garner as the strong but emotional medical specialist; Chris Cooper as the gruff but caring veteran crime scene investigator; Jason Bateman as the abrasive and neurotic techie; Frances Fisher as the hard-nosed reporter; Danny Huston as the arrogant and calculating Attorney General; Richard Jenkins as the principled FBI director who goes to the mat for his team—hell, even Jeremy Piven joins the action as the squirming bureaucrat.  The film does include well-acted sequences, like one with a man widowed by the attack, but even then he’s given some bigoted lines delivered with, of course, a redneck accent.  The only real change we see in any character occurs in Colonel Faris Al Ghazi, played by Ashraf Barhom.  He heads up the Saudi end of investigation after originally being assigned to babysit, and essentially thwart, the FBI’s efforts.  He initially suspects and corrals the American team, but starts to cooperate with Agent Fleury and offer critical insight into the search for the perpetrators.  Over the course of five days in Riyadh, Al Ghazi and Fleury somehow become good friends and gain a solid respect for each other as professionals and human beings.

The biggest problem with the movie is that it wants to be much more important than it is.  It succeeds as a police-procedural action flick: the gunfight and chase sequences are mostly well-choreographed, long, and intense, employing the quick-cut shaky-cam conventions required of all modern action films.  It fails, though, as a thoughtful exploration of the roots of the America vs. violent Islamic fundamentalist conflict.  Two scenes comprise the entire attempt at meaning.  One shows Al Ghazi at home with his family doing things that “normal” families do, a rather unsubtle “See?  Not all Muslims are rabid killers!”  (I guess I should be happy about this, since most films of this ilk don’t even bother.)   The other scene, an intercut juxtaposition of two scenes occurring several days and thousands of miles apart, reveals what was whispered between two FBI agents on one hand and a dying terrorist leader and his grandson on the other.  If you don’t know by then that the two utterances will be the same, you should watch more movies.  Overall, The Kingdom entertains, but doesn’t enlighten.

Verdict: Watch it.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: