After a brief, graphic enhanced look at the history of “The Kingdom”, a terrorist group attacks a Western housing complex in Saudi Arabia. The families are playing a game of softball in what they believe is a protected area, heavily guarded. But the terrorists disguise themselves as Saudi Police, get in, cause a lot of havoc and cost a lot of American lives. The State department, led by Attorney General Gideon Young (Danny Huston) is reluctant to send anyone in and FBI Director James Grace (Richard Jenkins) follows the edict. But Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) knows he has to get his team there yesterday; the longer they wait, the less chance they have of recovering any evidence. He meets with and manages to convince the Saudis it is in their best interest to allow the team into the country, onto their soil. Fleury takes Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), the FBI’s munitions expert, Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), their intelligence expert and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), their internet and web guy. There, they meet Colonel Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), a member of the Saudi police, who has been personally charged by the Prince to care for the Americans, and his assistant Sergeant Haytham (Ali Sulman). On the ground, they face a number of restrictions until they are finally able to take a look and start to convince people they are serious about their investigation.
“The Kingdom”, directed by Peter Berg (a former TV actor who now directs TV and movies, “Friday Night Lights”) and written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, is a surprisingly effective thriller. Combining a number of different styles of film, “Kingdom” works a large percentage of the time and manages to paint a portrait evocative of the problems we have in that part of the world. It isn’t a perfect film, but what it gets right, it does well.
Despite a couple of heavy action moments, the film really strives to be a political thriller. And it succeeds. The opening moments, a graphical “Complete Idiot’s Guide” to the history of the Kingdom, manage to quickly paint a portrait of the constant back and forth shaping the history, politics and landscape of this region. This is both a necessary and effective way to set up the environment the American FBI team will encounter when they arrive in Saudi Arabia. No one wants them to go there because they are very concerned about our relationship with the Saudis and the flow of oil from their country to ours. When they arrive, they are told they may walk through the crime scene, but not touch anything or remove anything. Of course, this will hamper their investigation, so it meets with some resistance. Once they arrive on the scene, Damon Schmidt (Jermey Piven), from the State Department drives up ready to intercept, and immediately begins to make arrangements for them to leave. He can’t see any good from their visit, so he rushes them from one site to the next. As we watch all of this, it makes sense and further reinforces what we are learning about the history of the region and, more importantly, our involvement in the shaping of this history. Then, in the film’s final moments, these previous scenes really pay off with a resonance you won’t soon forget.
From the moment they arrive in Saudi Arabia, the American FBI team is escorted by Colonel Al Ghazi. There is a reason for this. The Americans are not safe and as much as the Saudis don’t want them in their country, if they were harmed in the Kingdom, it would be disastrous. So the Colonel is a babysitter, restricting their every move.
During the course of their visit, the terrorists strike against the FBI team and this sets off a series of action packed events. The team races after the terrorists, chasing them in cars into an unsafe area, filled with people sympathetic to the cause of Abu Hams, the Bin Laden wannabee. Then, when they can drive no further, they chase the terrorists through buildings and continue the search.
These scenes are exciting and will keep you on the edge of your seat. The threat level and danger are constant and very raw and don’t let up, reminding me of some of Michael Mann’s work. Mann is one of the producers on this film and his influence is clear.
Jamie Foxx is good, but a bit one note. His one motivation is to find out who committed this crime and bring them to justice. After they arrive in Saudi Arabia, he naturally spends a lot of time with Colonel Al Ghazi, and as is dictated by films like this, they come to respect one another, forming a form of friendship, a bond.
Early in the film, as Fleury learns of the attack, he is at his son’s school answering questions from the Kindergarten class. As he tries to get the right permissions to make the trip, we see a few interactions with his son, who is so darn cute and asks things like “What did the bad men do?” I think these scenes are meant to give Foxx’s character more humanity, but they are way too Action Movie 101 to be successful. Every action film ever made has some variation of this type of scene.
Fleury’s son may also be intended as a counterpoint to a character we meet later, Abu Hamza’s granddaughter. But this doesn’t exactly work. As the film progresses, the granddaughter actually becomes a reflection of, a counterpoint to, Janet Mayes, Jennifer Garner’s character.
In fact, each of the characters is a bit one note. Jennifer Garner plays Janet Mayes, an FBI agent who has a personal stake in the attack; one of her mentors was killed. In Saudi Arabia, she looks as determined and grim as Foxx’s character. She also must deal with the fact she is a woman, while operating in a country where women have few if any rights.
First of all, would anyone actually send Mayes to partake in such an investigation? Her involvement with one of the victims would seem to prejudice her and call her impartiality into question.
Chris Cooper is the Agent Who Has Seen It All, the munitions expert who wants, needs to get into a hole and dig around in the mud. He also laughs and shakes his head anytime someone says something that doesn’t add up. He has the sort of “Aw shucks” attitude we generally see in Hollywood movie Country Folk. But he is smart as a whistle.
Jason Bateman’s Adam Leavitt is the most original of the characters. During a briefing, he makes it abundantly clear that an FBI team should be in the Kingdom yesterday, yet when he is on the plane, he is a bit shocked to find himself headed into a dangerous part of the world. He doesn’t want to be there and wants to get out of there as soon as possible.
Ashraf Barhom plays Colonel Al Ghazi. Initially, his character holds a lot of promise. He watches an interrogation of one of his men, clearly having trouble with the techniques being employed. He allows the interrogation to continue, to a certain point. Later, as he and Fleury start to build a relationship and bond, his character becomes a pretty stereotypical for this sort of film as well. Doesn’t every action film have the gruff-by-the-book character that will eventually warm up the main characters and become an ally?
As stereotypical and one-note as the characters are, the film still works. It provides an interesting look at the situation in this part of the world, using a single event to provide an entry into the history, politics and people of “The Kingdom”. And it has some fantastic action sequences.