Movie News & Reviews

'The Kingdom' reigns supreme on many fronts

The editors of movie trailers are a curious lot.

They can pull off some real artistry, like when they make "I Know Who Killed Me" look in any way coherent, or when they cut two different trailers for "Good Luck Chuck," one to appeal to women (Jessica Alba's cute but clumsy, and isn't their relationship sweet), and another to appeal to men (Dane Cook scores like Pele).

That takes some skills. Not just bill-paying skills, but outlandish luxury-buying skills. Like jetpacks-for-your-cats-buying skills. Yetthey drop the ball sometimes with a serious vengeance. To me, thetrailers made "The Kingdom" look like a plain-ass action movie, andworse, one of those got-nothin' films that might be under the delusionit's somehow important because it's set in the Middle East. Yeah.It's one of the best movies of the year.

It opens with a long timeline of American involvement in the kingdomof Saudi Arabia -- one of director Peter Berg's many curious butdistinctive touches -- then jumps to a terror attack on Saudi soil.During the aftermath and emergency response, a bomb goes off, killingscores, one of whom's an FBI agent.

Stateside, agent Jamie Foxx wants to get a team on the ground and findout who's responsible for the death of their man, but is stymied bySaudi reluctance for Americans to be seen operating within theircountry. After lots of political wrangling that's livened up bykiller dialogue, Foxx and his team (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner andJason Bateman) are allowed to fly into Riyadh.

The situation there's no better. The Saudi detective process isrudimentary, unlikely to produce results, and the team's restricted tolittle more than spectators babysat by Ashraf Barhom, one of the fewlocal investigators capable of getting it done. Time's ticking away.Every minute the team is restricted from digging into the crime, itswindow of opportunity to catch the killers closes a little further.

For all the politics and maneuvering, "The Kingdom" races right along,propelled by writer Matthew Michael Carnahan's semi-naturalisticdialogue that might feel too hardboiled if all the actors speaking itweren't so crazy good. It's hard to single out any of the cast whenthey're all bringing it like this, but Barhom's turn as a Saudipoliceman who respects his peoples' laws and culture but wants tobring the terrorists to justice is incredible.

Berg's direction's a little harder to pin down. Sometimes the camerabounces along with the team in a car like it's right there with them,other times it wanders through Riyadh and its citizens like a glider,as if trying too hard to humanize the Saudis as hard as it's played upFoxx as a great father and ultra-competent leader.

It's utterly outstanding at action, though, from the grim openingattacks to the breathless danger that appears once the team closes inon its suspects. The gun battles near the end are some of the mosttense I've ever seen, nailing the "Bourne Ultimatum"-level violencewith an intensity so creepy you'll feel guilty for feeling exhilaratedby it.

Reviews for "The Kingdom" are all over the place. Some people thinkit's nothing but whoo-hah chest-thumping about heroic Americansstomping on bad dudes because the Middle East is a bunch of chumps whocan't clean up their own mess. Berg's other major directing creditconsists of "The Rundown," that one movie with The Rock and SeannWilliam Scott that looked bad but was actually pretty fun. Carnahanhasn't written anything else at all. They're unknowns. It's hard toknow whether to give them the benefit of the doubt.

But "The Kingdom" speaks for itself in its writing, in theperformances of its knockout supporting cast, in its "Good God, am Iwatching the first 10 minutes of 'Saving Private Ryan' here?"-typeaction. It's fair to naysay the way Foxx and Barhom are lionized, butthe ending undercuts not only what they accomplish and the politicsaround them, but also their very motives as humans. Maybe that won't workfor everyone.

It worked for me, and it was devastating.

Grade: A