REVIEW: The Kingdom [2007]

“If we go slower, next time we might pick out livestock”

Here is the introduction of screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan, brother of high-octane director Joe Carnahan. With this being his first film, it appears as though he has already reached A-list status. I mean his next three scripts will be brought to the screen by Oscar winner Robert Redford, Oscar winner Kevin MacDonald, and his brother. After viewing this entry, I must say I am looking forward to the others, if not with a little trepidation, very much. The Kingdom starts as an intelligently told military crime drama, emotions run high and results are less than adequate for those involved. What occurs next, however, is where the movie’s true strength lies. The final thirty or so minutes of chase and rescue action is intense to say the least. How much of that was Carnahan or director Peter Berg (the cinematography is very reminiscent to his previous Friday Night Lights) I don’t know. Now what I am sure of is that Carnahan’s script is what brought the heavy-handed sentimentality and unnecessary duality of key moments. For that I shake my head and wonder how “Hollywood” his next stories will be. Whereas his brother would just blowtorch the entire Middle East, Matthew Michael shows some restraint and compassion that kind of subverts the stuff that really works here. Either way, with or without those moments, this film is a great time at the cinema.

In a nutshell, this is a story about vengeance. Sure the Americans want to go into the Middle East and fight back at the terrorists for 9-11, but here we get a little more personal. An FBI agent has been killed during a devastating bombing in Saudi Arabia, (the orchestration of which shows how scary these zealots are with their total lack of respect for human life), and his friends have decided to backdoor their way into the country to help find those responsible. Going against the Attorney General’s orders, a crew of four specialists arrives to investigate with the help of the Saudi Guard. They find a break in the case and end up with a little closure before making their way back home. Here is where the climax comes in as one of their ranks is kidnapped for beheading. While the setup to this point is good, it’s the high-adrenaline chase that keeps you glued to your seats. It is non-stop warfare at close range and as a whole delivers fully on the setup for revenge that has been laid throughout the beginning.

All the acting is superb, and with this cast it better be. Jamie Foxx finally delivers a good role post Oscar; Chris Cooper is underused, but effective as always; Jason Bateman is fantastic comic relief and maybe even funnier than normal because of his reigned in performance; and even Jennifer Garner managed to make me not think her acting style stuck out like a sore thumb—she did try a bit too hard, but as the film continued she got better. The real stars of the film, though, were the two Saudi soldiers assigned the task to baby-sit, yet soon found themselves brought to action in helping the Americans with the case. Ali Suliman is great as the disgraced sergeant being punished for only being a hero and then still rising to the occasion after the abuse, (his character was the first moment of excess on Carnahan’s part for sap with a scene of him caring for his handicapped father at home). The real acting powerhouse, though, is the role of Colonel Al Ghazi by Ashraf Barhom. He brings humanity to this man, showing what it was that made him want to be one of the good guys. His rapport with the Americans is fantastic and his subtlety and emotive power is used to great effect.

Carnahan gets a lot right here, especially with his ability to show the evil and good that both sides have to offer. There isn’t really an agenda here, the Middle East is only used as a setting. His exposition may run a tad long, but it is effective in allowing us to understand the people we are spending time with. Without the events that transpire in the first three quarters of the film, we might not be as engrossed in the phenomenal action to come at the end. Berg also does a wonderful job directing. He is masterful in showing the stunt scenes. All the explosions are close-up and real, the carnage is in your face, and he has his actors on the right page. Starting the movie with a timeline of how our nations have arrived at the crossroads we begin the film at is another nice decision and executed to perfection. He should have thrown himself in the film as reward with some face time…oh wait, he did. I’m a Peter Berg fan, though, so he can do little wrong to me—until I see whether the Rundown keeps appearances up.

The last thing I have to mention is the friendship connection system that seems to be running rampant in the film industry. Hey, all the power to them. If you’re buddies with people that have pull, by all means use it to get quality film out to an eager audience looking for a departure from the drivel that is usually churned out. Here are just a few: Berg directed Jeremy Piven in Very Bad Things and acted in both Collateral and Smokin’ Aces, the first of which starred Foxx and was directed by Michael Mann who produces this, and the second written and directed by Joe Carnahan, brother of this film’s screenwriter. Then, you have Berg’s Friday Night Lights connections with Tim McGraw’s cameo and the spin-off show’s Kyle Chandler in a small role. I’m sure there are more, but that’s what I noticed first off. I must say, the results of having people work together that enjoy each other pays off more effectively in drama then when done with Will Ferrell comedies.

The Kingdom 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Jamie Foxx star as Ronald Fluery in Universal Pictures’ The Kingdom – 2007
[2] Jennifer Garner in Universal Pictures’ The Kingdom – 2007


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