Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman, Jeremy Piven
Matthew Michael Carnahan
If you're looking for a political thriller that examines the the world in which we currently live, you have a couple of decent choices among Paul Haggis's current flick "In the Valley of Elah" or the upcoming "Rendition." Despite its setting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, however, director Peter Berg's ("Friday Night Lights") "The Kingdom" isn't so much an examination of world politics, terrorism or cultural affairs as it is a plain old razzle dazzle action flick set deep inside an exotic locale.
Unlike Haggis's film, which completely collapsed in its closing scene, Berg's "The Kingdom" is saved from complete and utter mediocrity by a closing scene that, if nothing else, turns this mediocre political thriller into a pretty darn decent action flick.
"The Kingdom" stars Jamie Foxx as Ronald Fleury, who is painted early in the film as both superdad and bad-ass FBI agent. When a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia results in multiple American casualties, Fleury and his elite team of hot shot agents, including Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman) head off to Saudi Arabia to convince local forces, headed by Col. Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom of "Paradise Now"), to cooperate with the investigation.
Similar to "Elah," "The Kingdom" can't quite decide what kind of film it wants to be. There's a certain, quite convincing, buddy element to the relationship that develops between the Fleury and Al-Ghazi, though by the end of the film it has drifted almost inevitably into the predictable and not so believable territory of the two vastly different sides cooperating and, of course, Americans saving the day.
Despite having the occasional flashback to Foxx's disastrous "Stealth," does a nice job as the fiery Fleury, though his thunder is stolen by Barhom's wonderful portrayal of the Saudi Colonel ruled by both a desire for justice and nationalist pride.
Speaking of nationalist pride, "The Kingdom" may very well be the first Mideast-centered film that since the Iraq war began that would make old George W. Bush break out that old sheepish grin of his. There's this constant swagger present throughout "The Kingdom" that one can't help but recall Bush's famous "Mission Accomplished" pose from far enough back in the future that I can't even tell you for sure when it was....mission accomplished, eh?
Of course this is more action flick than political thriller so it's inevitable that the good guys (Americans, of course) and the bad guys (everyone else) will inevitably play rock em' sock em' robots, lots of things will be blown up and the evildoers will lose.
Along with Fox and Barhom, Jason Bateman offers some comic relief as the fresh guy on the team, however, both Garner and Cooper are woefully under-utilized. While Bateman's comic relief isn't overly distracting, it becomes overly distracting when Jeremy Piven shows up as a slick bureaucrat. Ali Suliman, who joined Barhom in the cast of "Paradise Now," joins him again here and turns in one of the film's best supporting performances as a sympathetic Saudi cop.
Berg utilizes way too much shaky cinematography, and seems to want the film to have a claustrophobic feel with an extraordinary amount of close-ups and head shots. While this approach works in certain scenes, there are times it paints a scene far too narrowly and the intensity of the action dissipates as a result.
Newcomer Matthew Michael Carnahan's script paints the action scenes broadly, but spends far too little time fleshing out the characters and way too much time buying into Mideast stereotypes. Likewise, American ignorance is only reinforced by developing supposedly heroic characters who virtually ignore all local customs, traditions and sensitivities.
"The Kingdom," a film not so surprisingly produced by Michael Mann, is a too slick for its own good action flick that had the potential to be so much more. The end result is that "The Kingdom" far too often feels like Jamie Foxx taking on the terrorists in "Mr. Foxx's Neighborhood."
Where's Lady Elaine when you need her?
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic