The Kingdom

post-kingdomposter.jpgTo a certain degree, I was dreading The Kingdom. The first reason was that I’ve never been a big fan of Peter Berg’s films. I haven’t liked his garbage movies like Very Bad Things, and I haven’t liked his critically-acclaimed films like Friday Night Lights.

I was also a big leery of seeing The Kingdom because I know how Hollywood can be with politics. Whether you consider yourself a hawk or a dove, I still get annoyed when Hollywood preaches at me. And The Kingdom is just the first film in a line of modern war movies from the ultra-leftist perspective of the industry.

However, when I did see The Kingdom, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s the first film Berg has done that I actually enjoyed, and I was pleased to see that he managed to keep finger-pointing partisan politics out of the mix… for the most part. (There are a couple message moments in the movie, but they’re mercifully short and staggered.)

Instead of being an anti-war film, this movie uses the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a backdrop for an international mystery. A terrorist group has attacked a community of American civilians working in Saudi Arabia. A crack team of FBI agents get clearance to travel to the crime scene to perform their own investigation.

The team, led by Jamie Foxx, must cooperate with the local police and adhere to local customs. Soon, they uncover a greater figure behind the terrorist attack.

The film opens with a somewhat heavy-handed history lesson told with MTV-style titles. While it seems a bit overbearing at first, it gives the audience a quick look at why things are the way they are in Saudi Arabia. This is important because not everyone knows the history of oil in the Middle East. With this information, it puts things into perspective how an unenlightened monarchy was thrust into geopolitics when their economy matured but not necessarily their political structure.

The acting in the film is pretty strong, but that’s to be expected with this cast. Jamie Foxx does a fine job, although he throws down the macho moments a little too frequently. This leads him to be upstaged by the always incredible Chris Cooper, who has a role that should have been bigger. Jason Bateman also shines as the snarky comic relief, even if this has been a path he’s gone down too often.

Ashraf Barhom, who plays the Saudi police officer assigned to help the FBI, is the break-out performance in the film. He carries the role against Oscar-winning actors, and at times even manages to steal the scene.

Jennifer Garner seems wasted at the beginning of the film, especially when her character broods too much about how she’s not treated well by the Saudis because she’s a woman. However, the time eventually comes for her to finally go all Sydney Bristow on one of the terrorists, and this is worth the price of admission alone.

There’s a little political posturing in the film, specifically when terrorists wiping out innocent civilians is implied to be an equal action to a soldier in combat having to shoot someone in order to protect himself. I found some of these moments to be pandering to the Hollywood left. I know it’s politically incorrect to say this, but I think there’s a big difference between murdering an innocent child and having to defend yourself against a teenager trying to shoot you.

Still, the political messages were kept to a minimum and not nearly as prevalent as I would expect. Overall, Berg did a fine job constructing a blend of action movie and geopolitical thriller.

The Upside: The action climax is one of the best you’ll see this year.

The Downside: There’s a cheesy message at the end.

On the Side: This film won’t change the fact that gas is still hovering around $3 a gallon.

Grade: B+