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Movie Review: The Kingdom

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It seems like forever since the first trailers appeared for The Kingdom. It was like the film was getting ready for release, and then the trailers disappeared. Months later they reappeared and the release date actually appeared. I am not sure why the release was so delayed from the initial advertising push. Whatever the case, positive word-of-mouth swirled around the picture until it finally arrived on the big screen. Now that people are seeing it, word seems to be greatly split. Fortunately, I don't care about them and neither should you. The Kingdom is an exhilarating action/thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat the closer to the climax you get.

The Kingdom is not a completely realistic portrayal of life in Saudi Arabia, nor is it terribly realistic in any other sense. Still, it feels real. This is a movie that exists in a heightened reality, a world a few steps removed from our own. It portrays events that could happen similarly in our world, but not really. If you want real you will need to look up a documentary, watch world news, or go to Saudi Arabia. Fortunately I do not go to the movies to see realism, just a good story that plays by the rules it sets up. This story is believable within its own confines; it doesn't contradict itself and delivers exciting goods in the process.

The movie opens with an attack on an American housing facility in Riyadh, capped with a suicide bombing in the midst of a softball game. That is followed up in short order by an explosion that takes down buildings and leaves an enormous crater in its wake. Back in the States, an FBI response team recommends sending a team over to aid the Saudi forces in their investigation. Of course, this idea does not go over well. So, in the tradition of decades' worth of action films, our heroes go above and beyond in order to find a way into the country regardless of their superiors' feelings.

Leading the team is Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx). He is joined by Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman). These guys are more than ready to hit the ground running and bring these terrorists to justice. They are met by American embassy man Damon Schmidt (Jeremy Piven), who attempts to guide them through the customs and requirements of the Saudi kingdom.

The middle portion of the film turns into a procedural thriller as the team investigates whatever evidence they are able to get their hands on. This stage of the game has them attempting to navigate between the lines of what the Saudi royals will allow them to do. Then, just when you think it is over, the action ramps up and we get nearly half an hour of incredibly well-staged action. Car chases, gun fights, fisticuffs — there is a little bit of everything.

Throughout the entirety of The Kingdom, there is always something to be entertained by. Even when the bullets aren't flying and we have to be content with mere talking, The Kingdom offers great entertainment. Not to belabor the point — this is not real, I do not watch this film and see any kind of documentary-style truth to it. Rather, I watch this as an intriguing work of fiction that is sideways related to the real world. The script by Matthew Michael Carnahan and direction from Peter Berg will draw you in and completely hold your attention. You will find yourself wondering what is going to happen next as you become more and more invested in the story.

Peter Berg injects a lot of energy into the proceedings, employing Paul Greengrass-style shaky cam throughout the action sequences. He knows how to put you right in the middle of the action and keep you there unflinchingly as the chaos flies all around. Add to that a script that has an interesting story that ties into world events, yet never becomes mired in explaining everything or trying to impart a message. It does keep everything fast and loose with a healthy injection of humor. Creatively, it finds itself in between serious fare like Syriana and more populist outings like Live Free or Die Hard. For the most part it succeeds at walking that line between serious and fun.

The performances are all quite good, with each actor filling a required component. Foxx is the tough guy leader who will stop at nothing to get the job done. Jennifer Garner carries the emotional weight of the film. Chris Cooper has an eager energy that is laced with humor. Bateman is the smart-ass, always ready with a quick one liner. Beyond the FBI team, there is the performance of Ashraf Barhom as Colonel Al Ghazi, leader of the Saudi investigation. His work is phenomenal, filled with emotion and unease, seemingly in a no win situation.

Bottom line. Looking for an exciting film that will have you guessing what will happen next? A film that delivers an interesting story blended with frenetic action? Do you like a little comedy infused with your serious drama? If you answered yes to any of these questions, give The Kingdom a shot. Peter Berg has directed a nice slice of real world-inspired action.

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