Reviewed by GREG KING.
A devastating and well-planned terrorist attack on a western residential compound in Riyadh leaves hundreds dead or injured. An elite FBI unit, headed by Jamie Foxx, is despatched to the oil rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia to assist in uncovering forensic evidence and identifying those responsible. But they are not exactly made welcome by the local police force, which prefers more aggressive methods of investigation.
The four agents find themselves caught up in the deep seated cultural and religious differences, and struggle to comprehend the implacable sense of hatred that foments the growth of terrorism in the region, which is passed from one generation to the next like a legacy. The agents also have to contend with cynical politics, both at home and abroad, and a maelstrom of sudden violence from a determined enemy. Their hunt culminates in a furious fire fight in the heart of a residential area in downtown Riyadh.
This unapologetically brutal thriller marks something of a change of pace for Peter Berg, the former Chicago Hope star turned writer/director (Very Bad Things, Friday Night Lights, etc). Berg effectively employs hand held cameras to take us right into the thick of the action, as with films like last year’s Children Of Men or the relentlessly paced The Bourne Ultimatum. This gives the film a sense of urgency, and the look and feel of a documentary. The audience emerges from the experience feeling battered and bruised.
The opening credit sequence gives us a quick overview of the history of Saudi Arabia, one of the more pro-Western countries in the volatile Middle East, and makes clear the connection between oil and the rising tide of terrorism and anti-American sentiment. But its take on the politics of both Washington and Saudi are rather simplistic, and there is a decidedly gung-ho attitude in the way that the movie celebrates the FBI agents’ eventual triumph over the evil Arabs.
Despite the immediacy of its themes and ripped-from-the-headlines plot, The Kingdom wastes an opportunity for an intelligent examination of the roots of terrorism, the mid-East conflict, and the psychology of suicide bombers. Films like the Palestinian drama Paradise Now dealt with this theme in far more sympathetic and empathetic fashion. Instead the film settles down to become merely another action thriller that delivers plenty of full-on violence and bloodshed.
As Fleury, the leader of the unit, Foxx lends a sense of grace and dignity that recalls Denzel Washington at his noblest. Jason Bateman, from Arrested Development, etc, is put through an emotional wringer when his character is kidnapped by terrorists, beaten, and threatened with beheading in the harrowing climax. Jennifer Garner and Chris Cooper cope well with the demands of the action but are given little to do of great emotional depth or importance.
The film has been shot on suitably harsh and inhospitable locations in Phoenix and Abu Dhabi, in the UAE itself, which lends an authenticity to the action and the settings.