random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Thursday, August 16, 2007

REEL REVIEW: The Kingdom (2007) ***

The Kingdom (2007) poster

R for intense sequences of graphic brutal violence, and for language.
1 hr. 40 min.

written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan
produced by: Peter Berg, Michael Mann& Scott Stuber
directed by: Peter Berg

Recently, I caught a screening of director Peter Berg's ( "The Rundown" & "Friday Night Lights") latest film with my friend Otto. I had seen a trailer for this movie at the beginning of the year and heard that its release date had been changed. The subject matter certainly captured my interest yet anytime a release date is moved you gotta wonder if it's gonna be a dud. It's not always the case, just usually. But, with two Oscar winner and two Golden Globe winners and being a fan of Berg's approach, I was hopeful that this movie would deliver. It certainly did. As I think back, I see it as more of a look at two different cultures than a terrorism action-thriller although it still does indeed fall into that genre.

Jamie Foxx in Universal Pictures' The Kingdom

The story is based on the Riyadh compound bombings which took place on May 12, 2003, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.The compound was an American housing facility that was attacked by Saudi terrorists in broad daylight while families were playing softball and enjoying a cookout. When it's discovered that a FBI Special Agent (Kyle Chandler) was killed in the bombing, the FBI want to be the first to send a team to investigate the bomb site. Of course any sign of Americans flying over to do just that would only escalate the uneasy situation.

While diplomats slowly debate equations of territorialism, under the radar and unbeknownst to his boss (Richard Jenkins), FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) leads an elite team of four agents to the scene of the bomb site after pulling a few strings. They are greeted by an uneasy American liaison (Jeremy Piven) and are given five days to go in there and find out who pulled off the attack. With forensic specialist Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), intelligence analyst Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), and bomb expert Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) at his side, he is confident that they will be able to infiltrate and bring down the terrorist cell within such a short time frame.

Once there, however, the group discover Saudi authorities suspicious and unwelcoming of American interlopers into what they consider a local matter. They also have to deal with a disorienting culture, the scorching heat, and of course, politics. It isn’t long before the foursome begins to doubt the reliability of their supposed informants and allies, which eventually leads them to question their own abilities. It quickly becomes clear to Fleury that their expertise is worthless without the trust of any Saudi counterparts, who want to locate the terrorist in their homeland on their own terms. Therefore local law enforcement becomes more of a hindrance than help.

Jennifer Garner , Ali Suliman , Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper in Universal Pictures' The Kingdom

Fleury’s crew finds a like-minded partner in Saudi Colonel Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum), who helps them navigate royal politics and unlock the secrets of the crime scene as well as the workings of an extremist cell bent on further destruction. Soon, the FBI unit picks up the track, leading them to the inevitable showdown with the opposing force. As they share an ambitious commitment to crack the case, the team is led to the killer's front door in a blistering do-or-die confrontation. Everyone winds up fighting for their lives in a race-against-time kinetic chase as one of their own is kidnapped by the terrorists. It becomes four agents and one colonel trying to bring some semblance of justice in a "kingdom" where none of them are welcome.
Right from the start this movie is intense. It has to be. I appreciated the fact that it wasn't just all action. There was an investigation that had to take place first and foremost but once the terrorist cell sees that Fleury's team are getting closer, they become quite aggressive and thus the story is unrelentingly propelled into action. The actors are believable and well-suited here in their characters. Foxx is no-nonsense but also charismatic and tender when he needs to be. Garner's physicality as an actor is well-known and toward the end she has a pretty serious showdown with a hulk of a guy. It's handled well as it doesn't make her out to be a super spy chick ala Sydney Bristow. Cooper is excellent as always and is slowly becoming the leading man's supporting character actor. Bateman's role is well-needed and he handles a pivotally critical scene at the end very well.

Actor/Director Peter Berg (who also has a small role in the FBI briefing) doesn't make an overtly political film here but rather focuses on characterization, the immediacy of the investigation and the difference & similarities in the clashing cultures. He touches on that clash right away in the graphic display he includes in the opening credit sequence as he shows a timeline of America's relationship with Saudi Arabia and oil. So there's politics but I felt Berg shows it as it has been and is without stereotyping any culture as good or bad guys. There were a few sequences where Danny Elfman's score was given time to bounce back and forth between both the colonel's relationship with his family and the FBI team's acclimation to their environment. This felt similar to Berg's approach to "Friday Night Lights" where contemplative instrumental music was used to tell a story over scenes with no dialogue. It worked well but I guess I find myself surprised that Elfman didn't go with music that would've been a little more suited to the environment in order to drive home the theme of culture differences.

Carnahan did a great job with the script. It coulda been for one culture or the other and it also coulda had some cheesy dialogue here and there but it had none of that. Occasional humor is incorporated appropriately enough and the script gives some necessary development to Barhoum's role (who does excellent as well). Sure, some of the plot was a lil predictable but I found myself ignoring that as I was too busy sliding to the edge of my seat due to the emotionally intense action scenes. I kinda liked how this movie came in at under two hours cuz it really only deals with the investigation of the bombing. Still, Berg gives you enough during that time to become invested in both the story and these characters. This film could have ended on a political statement but instead, I feel it ends on a cultural statement about human nature. I look forward to hearing more about the film upon it's release.

The Skinny:

  • The film was originally slated to be released on April 20, 2007, but was rescheduled after its positive reception by Universal executives as well as test audiences, for a better chance at award consideration.
  • The film's new release date is September 28, 2007.
  • It is also produced by Academy-Award nominated director Michael Mann.
  • Berg read a book by Louis Freeh (with Howard Means) for research. Published in 2005, about Freeh's career in the F.B.I., entitled My FBI: Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton, and Fighting the War on Terror. It's highly critical of both President Clinton and former counter-terrorism advisor Richard A. Clarke. Freeh made an appearance on The Daily Show to promote the book.
  • It was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, brother of director Joe Carnahan ("Narc" and "Smokin' Aces")
  • Filming commenced July 10, 2006, on the west side of the old Maricopa County Courthouse in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Additional scenes were being filmed concurrently in Mesa, Arizona. In some of the trailer frames, saguaro cacti are visible in the background.
  • Following filming on August 12, 2006, a crew member died when the utility vehicle (Gator 4x2) he was driving was hit by a sport utility vehicle carrying the director on Arizona State Route 202, in Mesa.
  • On-location filming took place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for one week in mid-September.
  • Filming also took place at the Willard InterContinental Washington hotel in Washington, D.C. and the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi.


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