Peter Berg’s take on modern international relations and politics is an absorbing, engrossing, and thrilling piece of filmmaking. The Kingdom takes on well written political intrigue, CSI-style crime drama, and Michael Bay action to complete this fantastic movie.
Jamie Foxx leads a strong cast (all with fine performances) to Saudi Arabi. His FBI team is there to investigate a massive attack on Americans and track down the leader of the terrorist cell that caused it. The premise is simple when written, but there’s plenty of depth here and the various angles taken to present the story make it unique.
Before the American team can be sent, they must deal with local politics. The FBI fights their trip to the Middle East, and upon arrival, their reception is worse yet. The constant security and hang-ups that force the investigative team to lose precious time is as frustrating for the viewer as it is for the characters, yet creates an appropriate environment for the battles yet to come.
It’s no surprise who the actual killer is. It’s stated throughout the film, and there’s no indication so the viewer could know his face. The Kingdom is about the trials to get to him, and as the investigation picks up, so does the pacing.
The Kingdom becomes three movies in one. At first, it’s about the US and longstanding problems with the Middle East. The second is about the dangers and reality of living in Saudi Arabia. The third, as the FBI finally tracks down their man, is a non-stop shoot-out, amongst the best in recent years.
The action comes after nearly 90 minutes of dialogue and exposition. For 20 straight minutes, there are explosions, dead bodies flying around, RPGs fired, and cars flipping. It’s an immediate shift, and a jarring one. However, there’s no questioning the intensity or the thrill.
Peter Berg’s direction is occasionally off-putting, over-using the shaky cam technique in standard dialogue scenes to no real effect. The action may benefit from it, yet the conversation-based sequences where it’s used become hard to follow.
Capped by a brilliantly worded final scene, The Kingdom becomes both relevant and thought provoking. It becomes more than just a movie trying to capitalize on the current state of affairs, delivering its message with force. Mildly flawed as it is, this is a great movie.
The film comes to HD DVD with a striking, bold transfer. Colors are strong, and detail is superb. The sharpness is nothing short of remarkable, while the black levels are bold and rich. The contrast is definitely something to see. A light grain filter is used intentionally on some shots with no ill effect.
Dolby Digital Plus leads an impactful audio charge. The final 20 minutes is a constant demo sequence. Beefy explosions shake the room, and gunfire ricochets from all directions. RPGs move through the sound field as they approach their targets. Prior to that (aside from the bombing that sets the film in motion), the audio is lifeless. Crowded streets leave nothing to discuss.
Peter Berg leads a solo commentary track to begin the extras, loaded with unique HD DVD content. Eleven minutes of deleted scenes develop the backstory, though they’re not needed. Constructing the Freeway Sequence is a fun, 18-minute piece on one of the more intense moments in the film. It’s detailed, and loaded with raw footage from the set.
Creating the Kingdom is a series of eight featurettes totaling 36 minutes. These are superb in the same style as the prior Freeway extra. History of the Kingdom provides an interactive timeline on the history of Saudi Arabia. Mission Dossier is a nifty picture-in-picture feature that offers rough CG alternate views on critical sequences.
U-Control, Universal’s video features that run along with the movie provides Character by Character. This offers a unique perspective on the shoot-out at the end as you view footage from each character's perspective to learn how the cameras achieved each shot. Various other interviews and photos pop up prior to that. Downloadable features are wasted on a poll and short trailers.
Ironically, as depicted in the movie, the crew wanted to shoot on location. Political issues made it too difficult. Instead, the entire thing was done in Arizona, redressed to make it look like the intended locale.