Friday, October 11, 2013

The Kingdom (2007)

The KingdomThis movie is a beautiful and stunning rarity: a film where tough, competent, smart characters actually show real human emotions.

One of the investigators is kidnapped and nearly beheaded. He fights fiercely, taking a severe beating but saving his own life by delaying the filmed execution while he's subdued. When rescue arrives he fights his captors, while bound, with a dogged ferocity that leaves no doubt as to his action-hero cred. But in the moments when the blade is at his throat, there is no question that this man is terrified. After his rescue, one of his friends asks if he's all right. The hilarious and utterly truthful way he responds with an expression is one of the best-acted moments in the movie. And when the rest of the team moves in to confront the bad guys, he stays behind, sinking to the floor in quiet shock. A movie that doesn't show the tough action hero immediately grabbing a gun and rushing into battle without blinking gets my vote for something exceptional.

In an intense sequence near the beginning of the film, a young Saudi police officer (Sergeant Haytham) chases down terrorists machine-gunning civilian housing, rams their car, and kills both men in a shootout...a heroic task. In the confusion after the attack, Haytham is suspected of being involved, and a ham-headed General has him subjected to a brutal interrogation. He endures it as though it's something to be expected, but when you see him look at his colonel, Faris Al Ghazi (who is clearly troubled by the process) during the beating, there are tears in his eyes. Simple touches like this throughout the film take ordinary action-film standbys and normal action heroes, and elevates them into something more: believable, exceptional human beings.

When the FBI team receives word of a member killed in the attacks, Jennifer Garner's character starts crying. Throughout the film, she represents the best of tough female-agent norms (watch the fight when she rescues the kidnapped team member dang!), but also portrays a woman with real female emotions.

There is real conflict and real friendship in the relationship the team, (Jamie Foxx's Fleury) develops with their Saudi "watcher," Faris Al Ghazi, a man who turns out to be a very good cop, a warm friend, and a nuanced human being. Scenes of him and the FBI team leader bonding as they drive through traffic discussing such things as The Incredible Hulk ring true and let the audience in on the careful affection that develops between them.

Al Ghazi is a classically American character, a good cop partnering up with an outsider to solve a irony considering he's the main Saudi character. But we Americans have a long history of love for that character, and why not put that to good use? One develops a deep affection for Faris, and surely that can't be a bad thing for millions of Americans to experience.

Faris speaks quietly of 100 people killed who had woken up with no idea they were going to die, and says that if they find those responsible, he doesn't want to question them. He wants to kill them. Fleury agrees, and another step towards a bond of friendship is formed.

The expected is consistently handled with unexpected care. In one scene Al Ghazi informs Fleury that Garner's character will be excluded from an upcoming audiences with the prince that night at the palace no women allowed. Fleury responds by ordering him to tell her himself. The often brash cop's manner as he opens the conversation with a gently awkward inquiry as to how her hearing is faring after an explosion is a surprising touch.

Is this film politically and socially realistic? I doubt it. But let's face it, this is a Big Hollywood Action Movie. It's a buddy cop film set in Saudi Arabia. But it happens to show human warmth, friendship, and fragility amidst the beatings and gunfights. It shows cultural tensions gradually peel away as respect develops between the characters.

Any movie set in the middle east (or, most movies made in the past couple years!) can be seen as commentary on Iraq, and I can't help but see more of Iraq than Saudi Arabia in The Kingdom. But the Big Hollywood Action edict rescues this from being cloying, preachy political commentary. This utterly American style of filming is almost like a wash of fresh air in such a politicized environment.

As we stand in a war that has already lasted longer than all of World War II and Hollywood's method for handling the material is to shoot for the jugular, then crack a one-liner. Audiences can't seem to handle anything remotely serious without shenanigans on the side, but fortunately The Kingdom is so well-made, engaging (even if the screenplay talks smarter than it is), and, at times, heart-stopping that it's impossible to look away As the film opens, terrorists (dressed as Saudi police officers) launch a suicide attack on a softball game involving mostly Americans living inside a Western compound within the capital city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While the suits debate their next move, FBI agent Ronald Fleury (Foxx) negotiates a five-day trip to Saudi Arabia to investigate the crime firsthand. Joining him are three others; the bomb expert (Cooper), the forensics guru (Garner), and the guy whose sole purpose is drop annoying one-liners (Bateman). Once the crew arrives they befriend Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Barhom), a man who knows the inner workings of the terror cells in the area. As the investigation deepens the team finds themselves at odds with who to trust and who might be the terror mastermind.

Director Peter Berg has a keen eye behind the camera and his pacing is what drives the film. While it's more of a procedural than a straight-up action film, once things start getting really ramped up in final forty-five minutes you'll be hard-pressed to catch your breath. That's when it truly becomes apparent that The Kingdom is more about action than actual substance, which is what an astute viewer will pick up on early. I don't have a problem with that as the film is always fascinating, but it's impossible to dismiss the fact that had the screenplay, by Matthew Michael Carnahan, really taken it up a notch in terms of social relevance, this could have been so much more.

Jamie Foxx is smooth as the leader of the team and Jason Bateman provides a sly comment or two. Jennifer Garner goes into action like Alias The Complete Collection (Seasons 1-5 + Rambaldi artifact box) or Elektra The Director's Cut (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) and certainly shows what she is made of in fight scenes. It's good to see her on the screen again. Ali Suliman as the Saudi police officer and Ashraf Barhom as the Saudi Colonel are names not familiar to American audiences. They portray their roles well, especially Barhom. You see the mind set of both sides in The Kingdom, from the Americans presence and aid to the groups of terrorists in the Middle East who don't want Americans there at all. The terrorists seem to think, "Death to everyone but you and me and sometimes I wonder about you." Not everyone in the Middle East is against Americans and we also see that terrorists target anyone---Americans or Saudi in this film---who go against what they want. Nothing new there, this type of mind set has been going on around the world for thousands of years.

Buy The Kingdom (2007) Now

O.k., I love Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner so I expected this to be what I was looking for. And it was, but also so much more.

The story in short: There has been a terrorist attack on an American compound in the Saudi Kingdom. A handful of FBI agents are sent over to search for clues. Although at first they have to learn to deal with the Saudi opposition, they succeed to win over the good guys and together they manage to solve the case.

This sounds very dry. Trust me, it isn't. The film will definitely keep you pinned to the edge of your seat for the 145 minutes.

The action is extremely well done. Of course there is a car chase, but I have never before seen one like this. And I'm usually not a fan of car chases either. This one had me though.

You all know Jennifer Garner has had a few lessons in how to fight, and she's showing off some good results, as does Jamie.

The movie's pace is terrific. It feels natural, never as if constructed.

The characters are well developed. Jamie, Jennifer and especially Chris Cooper use the little space they have perfectly to paint each individual. But also the Saudi military is portrayed in a credible way. Who wouldn't be mad when a foreign nation sends in his troops to solve your case? Add the differences in cultures and you've got a perfect clash. But good people can find a way out and here they do.

(Of course this is an action flick, not a documentary. I wouldn't go as far as to say that the terrorists are one-dimensional, but they have less space to develop depth as do the good guys.)

I will definitely be watching this one over and over again.

The HD DVD transfer is marvellous. Picture, depth, sound, all state of the art.

Specials include a history time line of the Saudi Kingdom which helps you understand the background to some of today's troubles.

The Apartment Shootout scene is awesome. It's intense, ultra violent, bloody, horrifying. They show it from 4 different perspectives. Makes you wish you never get into something like it.

Now that Warner switched to Bluray they say HD DVD is doomed. This one proves what it can contain. Get it!

Read Best Reviews of The Kingdom (2007) Here

I don't know why this movie passed in the theaters without my getting a good impression of it but it is an excellent film, certainly one of the best of 2007. The setting, Saudi Arabia, is chilling and interesting. Jamie Foxx is brilliant as always. The story starts with a terrorist attack. Jamie and his team have to solve the mystery, fighting the bureaucracy and the bad guys and establishing interesting relationships with the locals. There's a lot of action and the acting is really good. It reminded me of the movie Heat, but in Saudi Arabia.

Want The Kingdom (2007) Discount?

Let me start off by saying I grew up in an ARAMCO compound in Saudi Arabia since the age of 5, so this film hit pretty close to home for me and my family. Since 9/11, the atmosphere in this closed country has completely changed. America has always been Saudi's best friend, but since most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, an uneasy tension has formed between the two peoples, especially inside the kingdom. That said, this was a very entertaining action movie. Peter Berg basically took a real life event, embellished it, and made it entertaining for an American audience. His portrayal of ex-pats living in Saudi was fairly accurate, although we had much nicer housing than the Americans depicted in this movie. The structure of the royal family was fairly true to life, as the princes control most of the day-to-day functions of Saudi society. As for the gunfighting, until recently guns were almost never fired inside Saudi Arabia, they were simply used as a threat. But when several terrorist attempts to attack certain facilites were shot down, blood was spilled between Saudis. I cannot emphasize how shocking this was to Saudi life, mostly because their media is completely controlled by the royal government, but also because it showed them they were not immune to the threat of Al-Qaida and other extremist factions. What this film is mostly valuable for is expressing the quantum change that has occured in Saudi society, where once they felt completely secure, now they realize they are vulnerable to the same threats we all are.

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