After a stunning opening credits sequence in which we’re presented with a simplified by-the-numbers version of the United States involvement in Arab Oil production, our scene shifts to an American community of oil workers in the Saudi city of Riyadh, where men posing as Saudi police charged with the protection of the Americans stage a devastating terrorist attack killing many of the people in the city and taking out any sort of FBI involvement present there. The FBI are charged with the protection and investigation of these sorts of American events abroad, and once word has come down, FBI forensics agent Ronald Flury and his team find their hands tied at even getting into Saudi Arabia to actually investigate what has happened. After a little political manipulation, they are allowed to send in four agents to investigate, but only at the whims of the Arabian Prince in charge. Flury and his team, and a Saudi police officer named Faris Al Ghazi, after some initial head-butting, come together to piece together what happened and who is responsible.
And with that, you have the basic premise of The Kingdom the newest movie from director (and actor- he’s in the film) Peter Berg, who amazed me with his prior efforts, The Rundown and Friday Night Lights and he amazes me again with The Kingdom delivering what I think is right up there with the very best that I’ve seen this year.
What’s amazing to me in ths film is that for once, the terrorists in the movie are actually Muslim terrorists, without any sort of secret-y, shadowy American involvement. It’s not handled in the cynical Hollywood way, which more often than not points the finger and says, “We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us” which is at this point getting to be the most tired cliche in movies now that try to say anything at all about American involvement in the Middle East. The last movie that I saw that handled this this fairly was United 93 which was definitely my favorite film of last year. Berg’s film is obviously a fictional account, but it seems well researched, and it’s more concerned with the obvious feelings of revenge that first set in after devastating events such as these occur. In other words, thank goodness, he doesn’t come in to politicize what has happened and as a result, you’ve got something here that handles this quite fairly showing all sorts of points of view. To somewhat simplify it, this sort of reminds of taking a movie like Syriana and crossing it with films like Peacemaker or Black Rain.
In some reviews that I’ve seen, this movie is sort of being indicted as the type of thing which will further an anti-Muslim resentment in the US, and I don’t think that’s so at all, because really it’s more than fair in showing the Saudi’s Prince of his region earnestness in wanting to solve this crime and even more so in it’s treatment of Faris, who becomes this character that you really give a damn about by the end of the film.
Berg has assembled as unlikely a team of actors working together in a project like this as I’ve ever seen. Jamie Foxx plays Agent Flury and he’s backed up by Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as his team, and these four really work well together, there’s a “lived-in” quality to both their work and their personal relationships that feels honest. Jeremy Piven and Danny Huston play State department officials who more take on the cynical Hollywood side of these events, but they’re not at all force-fed to us, and their portrayals again feel right. I did not catch the name of the actor who plays Faris, but he does one hell of a job here, and his relationship with Foxx, which first starts as head-butting, and then moves to cooperation again feels just right.
Berg’s films have gotten more technically proficient with each one, and The Kingdom is no exception. He employs a handheld camera style (that of course others complain about yet again) that works here, and works dramatically well especially in later parts of the film where all sorts of chaos erupts. Danny Elfman provides a very cool more techno and drumbeat influenced score that also keeps the pace moving quite effectively.
I cannot recommend The Kingdom enough, from it’s riveting opening credits to the absolutely chilling last lines of the film, it’s one hell of a ride and one great story, superbly shown and acted out. Don’t miss this one…