The Kingdom
I usually only pack an extra set of pants when I travel abroad.

Theatrical Release Date: 09/28/2007
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Ashraf Barhom, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman

America has come a long way since September 11th. Shortly after that fateful morning, most of us were wondering how long, if ever, we would be able to get back to our “normal” lives.

Many of us have had our eyes opened to a whole new world, that of the Middle East. While many in that part of the world have branded our country the Great Satan for some time now, I daresay the average American didn’t give more than a passing thought to what goes on there until the planes were flown into the World Trade Center towers.

That’s our own hubris, our own particular brand of isolationism that can no longer be applied in today’s global society.

“The Kingdom” attempts to portray a realistic scenario that highlights the culture clash between Saudi Arabia and America. However, while I enjoyed the movie overall, I’m left with some nagging doubts as to its relevancy.

The opening credits sequence begins by summarizing the Saudi-U.S. headlines over the last 80 years. It’s a fantastic piece of work, giving just some of the reasons for the complicated and incestuous relationship between the two countries over the years and into today.

However, short of some of the early political issues, all that hard work is forgotten as the rest of the film really doesn’t have much to do with the far-reaching impact that the fictional unfolding events could have.

The basics in “The Kingdom” are that a terrorist cell attacks and detonates a bomb in an American residency compound inside Saudi Arabia. Through some intelligent political wrangling, Jamie Foxx and his FBI Evidence Response Team are sent there to investigate.

Of course, the shit hits the fan and the body count rises as a Saudi neighborhood turns into a scene out of “Gymkata”. (If you get that reference, give yourself a pat on the back and a shot of vodka).

All of the performances are solid and the look of the film is done in that handheld, in your face kind of way that really works for stories of this nature.

While Foxx and Barhom are the main focus of the story, perhaps the greatest thing you will learn is to never mess with Jennifer Garner. After watching her dispose of one of the bad guys, I think Ben Affleck must have been sweating and saying to himself that he’s going to go out and buy her something pretty just in case he did something stupid over the weekend.

I was a little disappointed that the film wasn’t so much about their investigative skills considering they’re an FBI forensics team. Without giving too much away, let me just say that in order to track down those responsible for the bombing that brings them to Saudi Arabia, while their expertise does help, it is pure dumb luck and poor timing on the terrorists’ part that steers the film to its conclusion.

Also, I thought some of Foxx’s character was a bit over handed and too perfect of a role model, especially in light of the shadiness of the politicians and certain Saudi officials. It’s clear that the filmmakers have their sense of what’s right and wrong and didn’t want the audience to be able to question our “heroes” as they fight the good fight.

This leads to my biggest complaint of the film. It is told from an American point of view so squarely that I think it’s a bit much to say the filmmakers were interested in presenting a balanced story. It seemed much more like a film with good intentions that in the end had to make sure American audiences could leave waving the red, white and blue proudly.

It wasn’t so much that the American arrogance in being the world police force is on display, I’m a firm believer we have some of, if not the, finest police, federal agents and military personnel in the world. However, “The Kingdom” ends up portraying the Saudi forces (aside from Barhom) as little better than a wannabe police state, with inept military leaders and an inability to secure the walls within their own country.

Something bad can happen to any country at any time. The sad truth is that it’s not “if” something will happen but “when”. That doesn’t mean the security forces around a major incident are incapable of doing their job, it’s just that not everything can be stopped without creating such a totalitarian state that there’s no point in living in the first place.

Also, it’s incredibly naive to showcase so much hatred of America without also pointing out that the large majority of people around the world want to live in peace. It is a minuscule minority of radical extremists that are trying to scare America back into a hole. We should spend more time learning to understand and respect one another than learning how to kill one another.

Berg tried to capture that with some of the ancillary characters in the film but it didn’t play with me. The intention was there but I thought it came off more as a foreign relations afterthought than an established game plan.

I know I’ve wandered way off the beat and path here but I think that’s good. I think that while I find a lot of flaws in “The Kingdom”, its ability to create a discussion like this is more important that how cool Jamie Foxx can be with a gun and slick pair of shades (which he definitely can be).

That being said, I will say that the last twenty minutes includes a tense firefight full of explosions and mayhem, which I always appreciate. However, for a film that wants to keep the realism, I fail to see how they can survive being pinned down by enemies with the high ground and RPGs (I don’t remember a similar scenario working out for Navy Seals entering Alcatraz in “The Rock”) … but at least it looked cool.

I’m giving “The Kingdom” a strong 3 out of 5. It misses a higher rating because for all of the promotional hype about this being a depiction of how things are, it felt far too like propaganda.

Still, If you like gritty films set in a politically charged atmosphere, you’ll probably like this. If you’d rather see what hijinks a group of kids with magical powers can get into, I’m sure there’s something else in a theater down the hall.