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.