When a terrorist bomb detonates inside a Western housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing hundreds, FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) assembles an elite team (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman) for a secret five-day trip into Saudi Arabia to capture the bomber/s. Saudi authorities are suspicious and unwelcoming of Americans interfering in what they consider a local matter. Their Saudi counterparts want to locate the terrorist in their homeland on their own terms. Fleury's crew finds a like-minded partner in Saudi Colonel Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum), who helps them navigate royal politics, unlock the secrets of the crime scene and the workings of an extremist cell bent on further destruction.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Starting with a condensed historical timeline of events to fill in the political background to Saudi Arabia in relation to the US, to oil and to Osama bin Laden, The Kingdom is an attempt to turn today's biggest political story - religion-driven terrorism - into an action thriller with something to say. I'm all for that, as long as the filmmakers are serious about exploring their subject and avoid crowd pleasing, jingoistic propaganda. The Kingdom manages to avoid these pitfalls to a large extent, and finishes with a powerful point that redeems its moments of weakness: killing your enemy is a futile and primitive response.
The information package at the start of the film is a clue to the serious intent, establishing the context of its Saudi Arabian story with clarity - not counting some dialogue lost in the sound mix. The terrible violence unleashed on the American compound is as real as this morning's news footage, and has a visceral impact to set up the rest of the film. Political manoeuvrings are sketched in as the FBI tries to send a team headed by Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) to work with the Saudis; this is work they're good at, as Fleury points out in one scene, whatever you may think of the FBI. The conflict is thus expanded into a triangular dynamo; there is the conflict of tracking down the murderers, and the conflict between the Government and the FBI team, as well as the conflict between the team, once they defy regulations and get there, and the Saudis.
These intersecting tensions provide a lot of fuel for the film's dramatic engine and Jamie Foxx brings his considerable screen authority to the role of Fleury. His machismo is offset by some early scenes with his son (where is his wife?), later reprised and given more and more meaning by the way the story is resolved, with a little Saudi boy in the final scene.
Superbly cast all round, the film has an authenticity about it that is both exciting as cinema and devastating as a close up on our terrible times.
Peter Berg handles the action with a raw energy that he could well have retained without falling foul of the overused hand held camera trick that is so tiring to watch. That aside, The Kingdom explores the cross cultural issues between the US and Saudi Arabia through this dramatic prism, offering valuable insights and a scary scenario of what Islamic terrorism really looks like.
Review by Louise Keller:
Topical and highly political, The Kingdom takes harrowing subject matter centred on the war against terror and throws in a grenade of a question - is there much difference between the two sides? It is indeed a valid and thought provoking story with disturbing themes and images, although the script is as jumpy as the constantly-used hand-held cameras, which often confuse and even nauseate. While I understand director Peter Berg's desire and intention to bring immediacy and a hard documentary edge to our palates, a less frenetic approach may have resulted in better cohesion of storytelling and a better overall understanding. Nevertheless, volatile issues are explored in this potent film giving us a glimpse of a conflict, a war, and a political divide that may not be as fundamentally different as we would like to think.
After a short prologue in which we are given a historic and political snapshot, images from two different worlds are juxtaposed beside each other. Jamie Foxx' Special Agent Ronald Fluery is talking to his son, while on another side of the world, a Saudi man instructs a young boy to watch through binoculars as the effects of a suicide bomber take explosive effect. The film takes flight as Fluery and his team makes their way to Saudi Arabia in search of the mastermind behind the attack. Protocol and local customs create delays and problems, and we get a fascinating insight into the world behind the walls of one of the many opulent palaces.
Headed by Foxx, Chris Cooper and Jennifer Garner, the entire cast is credible as they get their hands dirty searching for clues. I felt a chill running up my spine as the search for finger prints changes to a search for men whose fingers are missing. 'Every bomb maker gets bitten at some stage,' we are told. I found some of the dialogue difficult to understand, but there is no mistaking the juxtaposition of the primal desire for revenge that is common to both sides of this divide.
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KINGDOM, THE (MA)
CAST: Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Chris Cooper, Andrew Astor, Jeremy Piven, Ashraf Barhoum
PRODUCER: Peter Berg, Michael Mann, Scott Stuber
DIRECTOR: Peter Berg
SCRIPT: Matthew Michael Carnahan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mauro Fiore
EDITOR: Colby Parker Jr, Kevin Stitt
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tom Duffield
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 4, 2007