Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes; Character by character: The apartment shootout; Constructing the freeway sequence; History of the Kingdom: An interactive timeline; Creating The Kingdom; Feature commentary with director Peter Berg; Web enabled features.
ON THE one hand, Peter Berg’s The Kingdom would have you believe it’s a serious political thriller that asks some very difficult questions concerning the war on terror.
On the other, it’s an explosive blockbuster that seeks nothing more than to entertain multiplex viewers.
In truth, it’s more popcorn-friendly than politically hard-hitting and struggles to be taken seriously as a result.
The film opens promisingly, first with an impressive credits sequence that outlines the history of Saudi Arabia right up to the Twin Towers attack, and then with a superbly choreographged and frighteningly realistic terrorist attack on a Western enclave in Saudi Arabia.
It then follows an FBI team as they head out to help with the investigation and the subsequent search for the number one suspect.
The team is led by Jamie Foxx’s Ronald Fleury, a family man with a personal stake in the Saudi bombing, and comprised of bomb expert Sykes (Chris Cooper), pathologist Mayes (Jennifer Garner) and wise-cracking analyst Leavitt (Jason Bateman).
Once there, however, they must count on a sympathetic Saudi colonel (Ashraf Barhom) to provide them with the meetings and access they need in order to complete their job.
Berg’s movie is the first in a flurry of war on terror films headed our way this autumn and it’s arguably going to be the worst.
Having established such an impressive starting point, it then squanders any of its potential by adopting a gung-ho, jingoistic approach that bears horrible similarities with the pro-Vietnam era likes of John Wayne’s The Green Berets.
A scene midway through finds the FBI team walking into an arcade mall and watching in dismay as Saudi Arabian children play shoot-em-up games against American soldiers. But it then proceeds to unleash the same FBI agents against a heavily fortified terrorist compound late on and expects audiences to cheer along as they blow the baddies away.
Likewise, the script feels painfully lightweight against the context of the headlines we see every day, with Garner’s character announcing at one point that “Al-Qaeda has lost the first round in the war on terror”.
Had the film been content to serve merely as an action thriller with little or no real-world implications it would have stood as an impressive action vehicle, as Berg does conduct the big set pieces with bone crunching authenticity.
But by pandering to a wider audience he severely blunts the movie’s impact and squanders the excellent work done by Jamie Foxx and Ashraf Barhom in the process.
Jeremy Piven crops up as a political aide but appears to be merging his Entourage character with Tom Cruise’s look and wardrobe in Collateral (a nod to producer Michael Mann?), while Danny Huston is utterly wasted as a Washington politician with very little to say.
Berg attempts to pull things back from the brink with a final line that offers a sobering parting shot but given the nature of what’s come before it’s difficult to imagine American audiences in particular giving it much thought as they revel in the might of the US military’s firepower.
The result is a hopelessly flawed experience that feels especially derisory given the stark reality of the world it is trying to depict.
Running time: 109mins
UK DVD Release Date: January 28, 2008