Bring ear plugs and sun screen to The Kingdom. So many things blow up that you’ll need ear protection from the sound and tanning lotion to prevent getting a sun burn from the glare off the giant fireballs that light up screen.
Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx is Ronald Fleury, an FBI special agent who leads a rogue band of investigators—Chris Cooper’s explosives expert, an intelligence analyst played by Jason Bateman and a forensics specialist in the form of Jennifer Garner—to Saudi Arabia to track down and arrest the terrorists behind a brutal attack on a compound housing American oil company workers and their families. They have just five days to sift through the evidence and find the evildoers.
The Kingdom has a jittery, over-amped feel that suggests the director, Peter Berg, may have chugged one too many Red Bulls between takes. He stages the action scenes well, and creates a fair bit of tension—particularly in the film’s chaotic final twenty minutes—but I found myself occasionally wishing that the camera would stop flying around so we could focus and actually clearly see what was happening on screen.
Berg’s decision to keep the camera in almost constant motion mostly suits the action oriented tone of the film, unfortunately he doesn’t fare as well at creating compelling, fully rounded characters.
Foxx displays his usual charisma as the FBI team leader and has some nice moments, both tender and butt-kicking but the other members of his team are reduced to stereotypes—Bateman’s smart alec analyst, Cooper’s wise old investigator and Garner’s cute but steely forensics genius—that wouldn’t seem out of place on any of the CSI shows on television. The movie’s top character and best performance comes from Ashraf Barhom as the compassionate but deadly Arab colonel.
Aside from a masterful montage at the beginning of the film which traces the history of U.S.—Saudi involvement from the 1930s onwards, The Kingdom isn’t going to shed light on the conflict in the Middle East. It is essentially a western. They are the good guys and the bad guys and no shades of grey. Not every movie about the Middle East needs to dig deep into the politics of region, but The Kingdom’s take on the way to deal with terrorism, although crowd pleasing, turns the FBI into vigilantes and anyone in a caftan or a kepi into bad guys.