Dueling Reviews – The Kingdom

by Alan Rapp on September 28, 2007

in Movie Reviews 

Director Peter Berg is responsible for Friday Night Lights and The Rundown.  He’s also responsible for 1998’s cruelty to film, Very Bad Things.  His latest takes his star cast to the deserts of Saudi Arabia to investigate a crime and bring terrorists to justice.  How does it stack up?  Take a look-see in the Full Diagnosis as Aaron and I square off to debate the merits of The Kingdom

The Kingdom
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After a well-planned series of attacks and a brutal bombing of an American facility in Riyadh leaves countless dead Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) blackmails his way into the country to give his team a chance to investigate the crime and find some measure of justice.

Fluery’s team consists of the old Southern guy (Chris Cooper), the comedy relief (Jason Bateman), and the tough, but sensitive, chick (Jennifer Garner) whose inclusion on the mission creates all kinds of cultural problems.  (Two things the movie doesn’t have a problem with – simplicity and cliche).

On arriving they are assigned a liasion (Ashraf Barhom) who treats them more as tourists than investigators and has his own trouble handling the delicate situation between the local police and military.  The FBI team fights for the right to do what they were sent to do, earn the respect of the locals (in that crazy buddy-cop Hollywood movie way) and soon become the next targets for the terrorists.

Alan’s take:

Let’s start of with what works.  The film does a decent job of showcasing the chaos of terrorist bombings, action scenes, and their aftermath.  We are pushed into these events with the characters, not knowing exactly what is going on or where the next attack might come from.

The acting, though not high quality, is decent and we get what we expect from Foxx, Cooper and Garner, and Bateman shows up to play the tension-relieving Steve Zahn-like comic relief.

What doesn’t work?  In an attempt to tell a complex story with geo-political ramifications and centuries of hatred and distrust the film relies too heavily on simple answers and easy choices.  There are no ramifications for the characters’ actions, even when such would be demanded by both law and common sense.  Nor do we ever feel the outcome of the team is in any doubt or their lives are at risk, even when they are put in mortal danger.

I also have to note the insanely bad taste to include an animated plane hitting the Twin Towers in the opening sequence which is meant to explain the history and the current situation between the United States and Saudi Arabia.  Although the film recovers from this early blunder I can’t imagine who thought it was a good idea.

Aaron’s take:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Hollywood, it’s that the place is exceptionally ill-equipped to comment on big issues. Subtlety and nuance are simply too words that the major studios have never bothered to look up, let alone implement. Peter Berg certainly could use a primer if The Kingdom is any indication.

6 years into our Global War on Terror and it’s just now that Hollywood has decided to take on the concept of terrorism in any meaningful way (excepting the amazing Syriana, of course), but if this police procedural masked as political commentary is the kind of thing we can expect from a newly world-conscious Hollywood, I’d say it’s long past time for a remedial course in global politics.

Leaving aside the laughably insufficient primer on American-Saudi relations that runs over the credits, this film manages to brush up against a really informed and interesting film at least a dozen times over the course of its running time. Sadly, Berg never once seizes the opportunity and instead audiences can expect a big budget Law & Order that just happens to take place in Saudi Arabia. Albeit a L&O that places a lot less emphasis on accurately portraying how Federal Agents might actually act.

Alan’s final word – As misguided as the film is at times, and as insane as the constant shaky-handy-cam made me get, I must admit that the film was slightly better than I expected (though since I expected a spectacular train wreck that’s no saying much).  I wouldn’t go quite far enough to recommend the film, but I think there are people who will enjoy it for what it is – a mixed bag with its moments, both good and bad.

Aaron’s final word – Miscast, misconstrued, and woefully mistaken on the kind of dialogue we should be having about the roots of terrorism (not to mention what we should do about it), the Kingdom is pretty much Syriana for people who find Battlestar Galactica too confusing.

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