Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Kingdom

Year: 2007
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman, Jeremy Piven

In a post-911 world, terrorism is probably the most talked about subject these days. This is reflected as well in films and TV. You can see it on the hit TV series 24, as well as films like The Siege and Collateral Damage. Hollywood has a tendency of viewing Middle Easterns as the villains, which may change with the upcoming thriller Rendition. But for now, let's talk about The Kingdom.

It begins in Saudi Arabia, where a community of Americans living there are brutally attacked by terrorists. The following response team on the scene also fall prey to a larger, more devastating assault, killing 2 US government agents. The FBI are shocked and upset with the incident, and Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) wants to assemble a team and head to Riyadh to investigate.

However, the Saudis are not keen on the idea, and neither is the US State Department, due to the oil connection between the 2 countries (Saudis selling oil to the Americans) that makes their relationship very sensitive. Fleury however defies the State Dept and gets a team together anyway, and pulls some strings to get there quickly. He takes along fellow agents Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), who are experts in forensics, bombs and intelligence respectively.

Upon landing in Riyadh, they are greeted by Colonel Al-Ghazi of the Saudi State Police (Ashraf Barhom), who is determined to help catch the men responsible for the attacks. However, he informs the team that the Saudi government have restricted the team from directly participating in the investigation. Fleury isn't pleased, but does his best to uncover any information within the small time frame that his team has. Al-Ghazi tries his best to assist the FBI despite his hands being tied by his superiors, being very passionate about it, since the attackers were disguised as policemen. They learn that the attack may have been planned by Abu Hamza, who is connected to Al-Qaeda.

As the team dig deeper, they get closer and closer to Abu Hamza, and gain a small victory from it. However, the terrorists have targeted the team next with another brutal assault....

Peter Berg, who was an actor on TV's Chicago Hope before becoming a director, takes the reins of this film and turns it into a well crafted thriller. Writer Matthew Michael Carnahan fills the script with very plausible situations and dialogue, especially the ones that involve politics within the government departments. Together, Berg and Carnahan have made a film that passes off as quality entertainment. They even fill in some scenes of culture clashes between the Americans and the Saudis, like how to greet Saudi royalty, and how Mayes isn't allowed to touch a Muslim because she's a woman. Kudos also goes out to the cast, who flesh out their characters convincingly. Barhom deserves special mention for his intense and sometimes humorous portrayal of Colonel Al-Ghazi.

If there's any fault I can find with The Kingdom, it is the familiarity. Terrorism? Nothing new. American heroism. Done before. Sensitive politics between governments and within their own? Yes, been there too. I even predicted which character would bite the dust in the end. People who aren't pro-American would probably not like this film. But me? I'm neutral in a way. I can see how some people would see this as more American propaganda, but I would just sit back and enjoy the film. At the very least, the top-notch acting is worth the price of the ticket.

If you want good entertainment, this one is a good bet. Pay close attention to the end, where the final lines underscore the insanity our world has become. (4/5)

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