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  The Kingdom

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Chris Cooper

Directed by: Peter Berg

Produced by: Michael Mann, Scott Stuber

Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan

Distributor: Universal Pictures


     Peter Berg’s The Kingdom is not only a masterpiece for what it accomplishes on a narrative level, but also for what it does on an ideological front. The film, which deals with issues concerning current U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, vaguely recounts World War II propaganda pictures in that it fearlessly functions as both an insightful political commentary and an engaging action flick. But unlike those trivial—if admirable and troop-rallying—pictures, The Kingdom is complex and analytical of the United States’ role in the War on Terror. It is an unflinching, terrifying look at the consequences of both military action and inaction.

     After a short opening segment detailing the history of oil and terror in the Middle East, The Kingdom shifts its attention to one of the most daring sequences in the history of cinema. Director Berg steps back to observe a fictional (but entirely possible) terrorist attack on an American Housing Compound in Saudi Arabia lodging oil company workers and their families. Shrapnel flies, buildings explode, and blood hits the streets – the approach is sensationalist, but why shouldn’t it be? The images depicted are disturbingly real and are therefore, by their nature, sensational. Berg forces the viewer to realize that this vision could easily become a reality, jarringly setting a pressing tone for the remainder of the picture. Unlike the cartoonishly controversial nuclear bombing of Los Angeles constructed on TV’s “24” earlier this year, the sequence is visceral and raw.

     The viewer is then transported to the United States, where they observe the frenetic turmoil the event has created in the American Intelligence Community. Because Saudi Arabia is technically an ally of the United States, the Administration sees inherent problems in sending soldiers to retaliate against the Enemy that has carried out the attack. With apprehensive permission granted by the Saudi Prince, the government sends four F.B.I. agents—Ronald Fluery (Jamie Foxx), Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), and Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper)—to investigate the crime. Led by Saudi Col. Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), the group discovers many harsh truths about the attackers, much thanks to the full security clearance they are given in the country after Fluery demands such in nasty confrontation with the Prince.

     As it progresses, The Kingdom mixes political philosophy with action genre-conventions to an increasingly great degree. Thankfully, the filmmakers and cast pull this combination off expertly and its presence enhances the picture’s power. American Viewers are united by their belief in the F.B.I. team’s excellence and, as a result, come to clearly understand the foreign policy-related implications of the situation at hand. (Aiding this are the wonderfully charismatic four leads, who believably play their characters despite not fitting the accepted stereotypes of the roles.) While The Kingdom isn’t heavily partisan, its ability to show the current injustices being committed on a global scale forms an undeniable statement that advocates the use of necessary American military force in the Middle East as well as the strengthening of the international intelligence community. The film eloquently vocalizes a singular truth: both Islamic Extremists and members of the Western World are ready to fight each other to the death, and the sole victor will be the one who is willing to fight harder.

     Some may complain that The Kingdom is “too complicated” or “too unclear.” Many of said complaints will stem from Berg’s decision, in conjunction with the studio, to cut the movie’s running length from 150 minutes down to 110 minutes. Admittedly, a lot of story-related details were lost in this process, but I am certainly a fan of the decision. Viewers might be confused as to what the team of F.B.I. agents is talking about at certain times, but they should be. Much of The Kingdom’s power rests in the fact that it acknowledges that the United States’ situation in the Middle East is one of stunning complexity that proves far too nuanced for the average citizen to understand. In addition, had the forty minutes left on the editing-room floor been included in the final cut, they probably would’ve provided the picture a bloated feel, thereby diluting the kick-ass force of the action scenes.

     A mesmerizing wake-up call to the realities of global terror and all of its political implications, The Kingdom is undoubtedly one of 2007’s finest offerings. For director Berg, it’s a masterpiece of an accomplishment, imbuing the same deep sense of humanity that he was able to capture in previous films (Friday Night Lights, in particular) with a much-needed subtext. I will not soon forget this motion picture.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 9.18.2007

Screened on: 9.15.2007 at the Edwards San Marcos 18 in San Marcos, CA.


The Kingdom is rated R and runs 110 minutes.

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