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Movie Review: The Kingdom

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Every once in a while I see a film that seems perfect in every cinematic respect. The Kingdom is such a film. It has accomplished the nearly impossible. It is superbly entertaining as an action and suspense film. And it works as a movie with multiple contemporary messages about the conflict between the Western and Arab worlds and the war on terrorism.

The Kingdom
has a terrific cast, even in relatively minor roles. At the top are Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, and Jennifer Garner as three members of a four-person FBI team sent to Saudi Arabia to investigate a major terrorist attack on a community housing American workers; the attack has killed many of them. All the film’s actors are at the top of their game, which shows the talent of the director, Peter Berg. Ashraf Barhom, who plays the Saudi police colonel – first an antagonist and finally a friend to the Foxx character – does a remarkable job.

The visual aspects of the film are beyond incredible. You definitely believe that you are seeing the real Saudi Arabia. That’s because much of the film was shot in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. When it comes to the action aspects of the film, if you watch it in a good theater with a large screen and a great sound system, as I did, you will almost be blown out of your seat and find yourself cringing with white knuckles. Car chase and crash scenes are the best I have seen – period. If you have never been in a terrible automobile accident, this film will give you the experience.

When it comes to the extensive scenes involving a whole lot of shooting between the good guys – the FBI team members and some Saudi police – versus the Saudi insurgent terrorists, here too you will experience the blood and gore and incredible tension and loud noise of a real gun battle in close quarters. Some may think these scenes are excessive. I did not. They are brilliantly designed and directed to communicate the visceral feel of moment-to-moment gun battles where those involved fear the worst in the next micro-second for good reason. The suspense is ramped up and stays in the red zone for what seems eternity. Will the captured FBI agent be rescued before the incredibly brutal terrorists chop his head off? Trust me — you will be guessing until the final moment arrives. When Garner finally kills one of the top terrorists in one of the best fight scenes every filmed, the audience burst out into wild applause, and for good reason – it felt like we all were fighting the bad guy.

What transforms this film from an excellent action/suspense flick to a truly memorable film is that it succeeds in delivering a number of messages without being preachy or overly intellectual. The deepest dimensions of the current conflict between the terrorist Muslim world and western civilization are wonderfully delivered through brilliant, smart dialogue that reinforces the film’s visual violence. That Americans can find friendship with citizens of a country like Saudi Arabia is also shown with remarkable controlled emotion that brings many viewers to tears. And the conflict between the Saudi government that is totally anti-democratic and the nation’s terrorist and fundamentalist insurgents is also creatively portrayed. The burden of being a woman in an Arab country is also shown through the various insults that Garner’s character experiences.

For the record, while the FBI is made to look effective and even heroic, the State Department is made to look worse than incompetent.

Lastly, this is a film with a remarkably good screenplay, written by Matthew Michael Carnahan. After the initial stunning scenes of the terrorist bombing, as the main character played by Foxx fights a bureaucratic battle in Washington, D.C. to get permission to go to Saudi Arabia to investigate the terrorist event that has also killed an FBI agent and close friend, the dialogue among the FBI agents and between Foxx and high level federal officials is just perfect. The arrogance and stupidity that we expect of high level federal officials is quickly shown through wonderful dialogue. And every now and then there are some really funny lines throughout the film, making the moments of violence and suspense even more effective.

I can’t wait to see this film again.

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About Joel S. Hirschhorn

Formerly full professor Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, and senior official Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and National Governors Association. Author of four nonfiction books and hundreds of articles.
  • I, too, enjoyed the film immensely. It did have some serious problems in its portrayal of US officials, though, as I note in my review at Crossroads Arabia.

    My review is based on my personal experience as Counselor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Riyadh during the May, 2003 bombings of residential compounds there. I was on the ground as the FBI teams came in to support the Saudi investigation. The film may have been making a cinematic point, but it did get some things (including its premise) factually wrong.

  • Wendy

    I just came home from viewing The Kingdom. Those last 15 minutes or so had me on the edge of my seat. Top notch entertainment. The last words were chilling – we must take notice. Well worth the price.

  • SaL

    I just watched the movie… I think that the movie writer wrote the story based on little information that he hared or read about the compound terrorist attack, which is fine. But he didn’t do his job to learn more about Saudi society!! Actually I’m sure he has never been in Saudi Arabia!! And since the movie name is “The Kingdome” I think it should provide some information about the Saudi society.

    To be honest, the movie provided a correct picture about the terrorists in Saudi Arabia, and also it provided a true story about the compound terrorist attack.

    But other than that, it provided false and misleading information about how the Saudi government reacted, and how the Saudi princes dealt with the attack.

    And what make it worse is that it only shows three partakers in the horrible terrorist attack:
    1- Terrorists
    2- Saudi government and police.
    3- FBI
    And it ignores the fourth and most important partaker which is the whole Saudi society and how they react… so for any one who watches the movie he will think all Saudi society are terrorists!!

    Moreover, they give a picture of Saudi Arabia as only a wide area of desert and old buildings!!, Actually the movie shooting are taken in UAE not in Saudi Arabia. And in the worst place in UAE… I know UAE is much better then how it appeared in the movie.

  • T

    I enjoyed this movie up until the unnecessary scene where all of the Saudis have their time to pray. It seemed to be an attempt to create some sort of empathy for the Saudis, which is not necessary in this film. It was rather short so again the film re-gained my interest. I enjoyed the second half of the movie more than the first…until the last 2 minutes. I was appauled by the message presented with the whole “whispering in your ear” bit. I assumed I knew what I was getting into going to this movie, but I was litterally shocked. I have never wanted to demand my money back after watching a movie before, but I really wanted to this time. I didn’t want a single penny of my money going to perpetuate that horribly misguided message. As much as I enjoyed the first 1hr 52 minutes of this film, I cannot recommend it


    as i am from saudi arabia i saw this movie as a great movie ….!
    but i did not like the end because jamie & jennifer and the rest of the FBI team was sad & disappointed , and i dont think they should be because they deserve what they got for killing innocent people and children .
    and by the way the last terrorist attacks in saudi arabia was on saudi people and before that was on the arab compound and before that was on the american compound . and all comes from this motherfucker osama bin laden i hope that he bern in hell .
    and i think that peter berg did a great job in this movie .

  • Saladin

    A pure piece of propaganda. While the USA started slaughtering 1000s of Muslims in Iraq this attack happened in Saudi Arabia. Don’t you see the connection?!