The Kingdom, as in “of Saudi Arabia,” where literally thousands of Americans work and live in concentration camp-like housing compounds designed to protect them from attack while also defending Saudi Arabian society from contamination by dreaded Western ideas and values. When one such compound was attacked by suicide bombers in Riyadh on May 12, 2003—still one of the deadliest post-9/11 attacks against American civilians—an FBI investigative team was dispatched to work with the Saudis, though many of the same issues that previously hampered similar attempts at cooperative investigation after the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 American servicemen persisted.
There’s little doubt that these incidents inspired debut screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan’s original script—a notation at the tail of the end titles admits as much. But the film itself is anything but a historical embellishment. If anything, this is an old-fashioned wartime patriotic chest-thumper in line with the steady stream of such films that Hollywood cranked out in the early to mid-1940s. Back then it was Nazis and Japs, thereafter it was Russkies and occasionally Gooks—but the gist of the thing is the same: Americans turning the tables on their attackers and using superior skills and firepower to notch one back for Uncle Sam. In recent decades, films like Rambo and Red Dawn have drawn scorn for the intensity of their perceived jingoism, but the populist response from filmgoers has been nothing if not supportive. That’s precisely the kind of split response that’s likely to greet The Kingdom as well.
Jamie Foxx stars as FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury, lead investigator of a forensics team (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) that has been dispatched to Saudi Arabia, amid much political hand-wringing and beltway infighting, to aid the Saudis in their investigation of a brutal bombing attack right in the heart of an American housing compound. But this is anything but CSI: Riyadh. Saudi “cooperation” is more about lip service and photo ops than anything substantive, forcing the Yanks to do the usual off-the-manual, loose-cannon freestyling for which Hollywood movies have made them world famous. What Fleury and his team don’t yet realize is that the mastermind behind the attacks—a would-be Osama Bin Laden named Abu Hamza (not to be confused with the radical cleric currently jailed in the UK)—has now set his evil crosshairs on them.
Director Peter Berg has come a long way since his days as an unremarkable character actor, and this follow-up to Friday Night Lights confirms it. His style is straight out of the Tony Scott/Michael Mann playbook (Mann co-produced) with enough jittery, handheld camerawork and heavy, percussive underscore to make the Bourne films feel like Ozu. But the result is highly effective and very much in keeping with the film’s genre origins, particularly in a climax that provides as pure a rush of adrenaline as anything released this past summer.
The risk is that by both capitalizing on and exploiting the current war on terror, The Kingdom only has a few crucial weeks to make a quick, effective strike at the box office before geopolitical incorrectness finally catches up with it in the press. Either way, everyone involved seems already to have benefited, with most of the actors and Berg already working on even bigger projects and Carnahan set to burst into top-tier writing ranks with another War on Terror-themed project slated for release in just four weeks: the Robert Redford-directed Lions for Lambs, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise. Which means anyone thinking they’ve already had their fill of Islamism, Iraq, Afghanistan, terror, jihad and 9/11 at the movies is in for a very sobering autumn. —
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Piven, Danny Huston, Richard Jenkins, Ashraf Barhom and Ali Suliman
Director: Peter Berg
Screenwriter: Matthew Michael Carnahan
Producers: Michael Mann and Scott Stuber
Rating: R for intense sequences of graphic brutal violence and for language
Running time: 110 min.
Release date: September 28, 2007