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THE KINGDOM
Blu-ray Edition

Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Piven, Danny Huston, Richard Jenkins
Director: Peter Berg
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: November 25, 2008

“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 ****

The many hot outdoor sequences deliver impressive visuals in HD, and this Blu-ray transfer captures them with clarity and integrity.  The level of detail is so strong, you'll feel the heat in your own living room!  Colors are well presented, and images are strikingly clear in both brightly lit and darker sequences, and the overall action renders superbly in 1080p format.

Audio ****

The DTS HD delivers a knockout blow, as the action scenes are so dynamic and enveloping, you might feel like you need to duck for cover.  The shootouts send the explosive audio rocking out of every channel, with smooth crossover signals and impressive use of your surrounds and subwoofer.  Danny Elfman's solid score sounds vibrant and fully orchestrated, and dialogue is cleanly delivered against the beds of effects.

Features ***1/2

This Blu-ray features Universal's exclusive U-Control, which allows one click access to much material while you watch the movie.  Picture in picture gives you a Mission Dossier, which brings investigative information and background notes up, or you can track the action scenes with special 3D renderings to keep you on top of it all.  You can also view the apartment shootout from multiple character perspectices.

There is also 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. Universal has delivered another top notch Blu-ray release with this high powered offering!

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