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Movie Review: The Kingdom

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Jamie Foxx has moved onto the A-list in Hollywood. He’s able to deliver drama (Ray, Jarhead), comedy (The Jamie Foxx Show), and action (Miami Vice). His role as FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury in The Kingdom is going to further his drama and action acumen.

As Fleury, Foxx gets to descend into Saudi Arabian holdings like the unholy wrath of God – eventually. There’s a lot of red tape stringing him up at first. But by the time he gets through it, he breaks out the big guns and the action couldn’t be finer. It could, however, be more believable at times. But that’s not what this film is about, nor should it be. This is a high octane thriller that’s wired for violence and explosions. That’s why I bought the DVD and watched it, and I got what I paid for.

The movie opens up with an attack against US citizens in a restricted area in Saudi Arabia. The events are carefully controlled and calculated to do the most harm. Then the cameramen go to work and roll out some of the most intense chase scenes and gunplay I’ve seen in a while. Maybe I’d just been away from that kind of all-out action for too long, but it really hit the spot.

The intercut between the devastation and Foxx’s character delivering a speech in front of his young son’s elementary school class is stark and carries a lot of emotional resonance. Fleury’s friend is giving his life protecting the very thing that Fleury is at the moment enjoying.

Afterwards, Fleury asks for permission to put an FBI investigation team on the ground in Saudi Arabia but gets politely refused at every turn. He resorts to political brinksmanship and blackmail to get an audience with an influential Saudi Arabian who can make everything happen. Then Fleury piles on even more blackmail.

All goes as I knew it would, and Fleury and his team fly to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The eventual team-up of the American cop and the Saudi Arabian cop isn’t a big surprise, but the friendship is built slowly and steadily, and I enjoyed watching it develop. Ashraf Barhom is absolutely fantastic as the Saudi Arabian officer, Faris al-Ghazi.

The cat-and-mouse game that exists between the FBI team and the terrorists, and the FBI team and the Saudi Arabian military is played for all its worth. Fleury’s eventual winning over of the Saudi Arabian prince in charge of the investigation comes surprisingly quickly, but happens in a manner that was totally understandable.

Once the FBI team is unleashed, things really start to happen. I enjoyed the CSI moments of Chris Cooper’s Special Agent Grant Sykes displaying his demolitions knowledge when he unearths the actual vehicle that blew up in the protected compound. And I liked the way that Fleury worked to constantly include al-Ghazi in every discovery the team made at the proper time, while giving the Saudi Arabian officer credit for the discovery as well.

The kidnapping of one of the FBI team members initiates the final action sequence of the film. Those scenes are incredibly tense, and director Peter Berg makes the most of them. I felt like I was about to have an adrenaline meltdown waiting to see how the rescue attempt played out.

Jennifer Garner's character initially got a lot of attention for being a female in the Muslim culture. However, except for a few scenes, that never really went anywhere. Her character wasn’t really needed, and I didn’t know why someone as politically savvy as Fleury was would shoot himself in the foot like that. But I also know that Hollywood likes to put women in films, so that was a given.

I expected Garner to break out some serious Alias or Elektra moves at the end of the movie during the rescue attempt, but I was somewhat disappointed. I also realized that not being a martial arts star was true to her character, though. By that time, however, I was teetering on the edge of overwhelming anxiety about the fate of Jason Bateman’s character, and I figured the team needed every edge they could get.

The political message at the end of the film kind of spoiled things for me. In the end, nothing had been changed. The body count in the struggle had gone up, but neither side is going to give up. In fact, both sides have the same ideology, and that message ended up being something of a downer.

Overall, The Kingdom is a good thriller with plenty of action and tension. I enjoyed it for the most part, liked the dialogue and the character building between Foxx and Barhom, and agonized – as I was supposed to – during the bullet-riddled climax. Jamie Foxx is still on the move as a leading man and shows no signs of slowing down.

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