..

THE KINGDOM

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Piven, Danny Huston, Richard Jenkins
Director: Peter Berg
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: December 26, 2007

“Which side do you think Allah’s on?”

“We are about to find out.”

Film ***1/2

The Kingdom is an in-your-face action thriller that just happens to be a tad more intelligent than what we’re used to seeing in the genre. It mixes in a dash of politics and elements of a police procedural thriller (call it CSI: Saudi Arabia if you want), but actor-turned-director Peter Berg handles the proceedings with the utmost persistence. The movie thankfully never becomes overly preachy, but just an exceedingly well-made action thriller with some well made observations about foreign relations.

The film opens with a brilliant title sequence outlining Saudi Arabia’s relation to the U.S. ever since the discovery of oil in the 1930s. It traces events from that event right up to the attacks on 9/11. It’s one of the most astounding title sequences in recent memory, and it does a great job of getting the viewer hooked.

The story begins with a group of American workers of a Western housing compound in Riyadh enjoying a softball game, along with friends and family. The friendly gathering turns into a brutal massacre as terrorists use the opportunity to execute a suicide bombing. The casualty rate is at 100 plus.

The FBI is soon put on assignment, as a task force led by agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) is sent to Saudi Arabia to investigate the bombing, which also claimed the life of two agents. Fleury’s team is made up of explosives expert Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), forensic specialist Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), and technical expert Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman). Fleury has to do some political negotiating with higher authorities before being granted permission to enter The Kingdom.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the story is the politics involved in how the FBI team can conduct their investigation on foreign soil. The team is kept under the watchful eye of Saudi police Colonel Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom). This character is the most fascinating, because for once a character like this isn’t treated in one-dimensional form like we’re used to seeing, and we see a unique bond form between the FBI team and Al-Ghazi, both of whom want the same thing; to bring down the killers responsible.

A good bit of the movie is focused on the police procedural aspect of the story, all of it thoroughly engaging. And the look into the politics of the U.S. conducting an investigation in foreign territory is extremely well handled. The movie was actually shot on location in Saudi Arabia, so the setting is of course all the more authentic.

But what bookends the movie are some brutal and intense action sequences. I’ve already mentioned the first scene, which is more of a downer. However, the final 30 minutes of the movie provides some of the most intense and balls-to-the-wall action, as the FBI race to rescue one of their own who gets taken hostage.

And Berg’s decision to shoot most of the action in handheld camera mode makes it even more in tense, making it feel like you are there amongst the flying bullets. The actors really look like they’re dodging some major firepower. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this movie, it’s never screw with Jennifer Garner, whose tactics during a climatic fight scene made my jaw hit the floor.

I named The Bourne Ultimatum as the best action offering of 2007, but The Kingdom isn’t too far behind. It’s a truly intense and thoroughly gripping action thriller with an extraordinary level of intelligence, and given the backdrop of the story, the added bonus of intelligence was certainly needed. Credit Peter Berg for crafting a most superior and thought provoking action spectacle.

Video ****

What a fantastic looking release! This anamorphic presentation from Universal delivers one outstanding looking picture that is strong and flawless from beginning to end. You literally feel the sunburn from the Saudi Arabia setting. The handheld camerawork plays off incredibly strong as well, especially during the action scenes, in this crisp and fully detailed presentation.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix is as furious and jolting as you would expect a movie like this to have. The action scenes take center stage, as you will hear your channels occupy multiple flying bullets, rockets and explosions. It will sound like it’s happening right in your home. Other scenes are also strong, with terrific dialogue delivery and grand use of the score by Danny Elfman.

Features ***1/2

Quite an exceptional release from Universal, which features a commentary with Peter Berg, two intriguing featurettes; “Character on Character: The Apartment Shootout” and “Constructing the Freeway Sequence”, as well as “Creating The Kingdom”, and 8-part documentary which covers multiple areas of the production. Also included are Deleted Scenes and an interactive timeline titled “History of The Kingdom”.

Summary:

The Kingdom is a tight and thoroughly engrossing and effective action thriller. It’s got the action to blow you away, but it’s also got the intelligence in the story to make you think. That combination is a rarity, which is precisely what makes this movie a standout!

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com