“The Kingdom” is a film that tries to be everything. This is also a way of saying that “The Kingdom” isn’t sure what it is supposed to be.
Through its 110 minutes running time, the film bounces between being documentary, political drama, full-fledged action and an episode of
CSI: Saudi Arabia. That’s not to say it’s a failure at any one of those things, but it does mean the film falls well short of greatness.
In “The Kingdom,” a U.S. compound in Saudi Arabia is hit by terrorists during a softball game. Men, women and children are killed by gunfire
and multiple bombs. Amid protests from politicians, four FBI agents head out to investigate.
Despite the great cast of Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman, we never really invest much in these characters.
Screenwriter Michael Matthew Carnahan and director Peter Berg seem more interested in FBI and Saudi investigative procedures.
Foxx probably fairs the best because his character actually develops a relationship with a Saudi colonel while Cooper wades around in
mud, Garner pulls shrapnel out of victims and Bateman... Well, I guess even the FBI takes comic relief into account.
The lack of character would be acceptable if it was made up for with a merciless and jaw-dropping barrage of action sequences a la “Black
Hawk Down,” but it doesn’t.
Now admittedly, when we get to the action, it blows away everything else that has come before it. Berg’s direction makes excellent use of
handheld cam to give these sequences a rawness that makes them genuinely frightening.
The crown jewel is a no holds-barred smack down between Jennifer Garner and a terrorist. Usually in movies, fights are glamorized a bit.
Between the biting and the ferocious stabbings, it feels frighteningly real.
But after these sequences end, “The Kingdom” falls right back in line with its murky characters and even tries to shove a tired message
down our throats to boot.
If “The Kingdom” had gotten to the action sooner and sustained it for longer, it probably would have been a good film. But as it is, the film
settles for being just acceptable in just about every way with a few flourishes to set it slightly above the pack.
* * 1/2
(out of four)
Directed by: Peter Berg
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan
Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom, Jeremy Piven
Cinematography by: Mauro Fiore
Music by: Danny Elfman
Released: September 28, 2007; 110 Minutes