"The Kingdom" finds itself among a clutter of movies that Hollywood has dished out this year on the war on terror. Others include "Lions for Lambs", "In the Valley of Elah, "Rendition", and "Redacted". "The Kingdom" differs in that it uses the war on terror as a backdrop to drive this action/thriller genre movie rather than use it to make a comment. Just the fact that it would dare to use as open a wound as terrorism for source material was risky. And it doesn't quite manage to pull it off.
"The Kingdom" finds itself with its two feet stuck in two different places. On one level it tries to thrill and satisfy as a shoot 'em up action movie while still trying to slip into the political and moral themes that it simply cannot afford to ignore. Director Peter Berg straddles the thin line separating the thrills and pontificating. Most of the preaching, much to our benefit, is more understated and implied. The action part is a lot more upfront. Sometimes, too close for comfort.
Jamie Foxx plays FBI agent Ronald Fleury, who is determined to assemble a team to investigate a suicide bombing in an American compound in Riyadh, which also claims one of his colleagues. He obviously meets opposition from various quarters, including the State Department, which is keen to maintain friendly ties with the Saudis.
Fleury ropes in three others to assist him. Explosives expert Sykes (Oscar winner Chris Cooper), forensics pro Mayes (Jennifer Garner), and to bring some levity there is the intelligence analyst Leavitt (Jason Bateman). When they set out they come close to the stereotypical gung ho "go get 'em'" attitude that is reminiscent of so many Hollywood action movies as well as US foreign policy. But by the end of the mission, they are changed and don't see much reason to be proud in their accomplishment even with all the honour their government is eager to bestow on them.
Since this is more of an action movie we don't get much time to get to know the characters. The actors do a commendable job fleshing out the paper thin characters. The one actor who surprisingly manages to bring some depth to his character is Ashraf Barhom, playing Col. Ghazi. He is assigned to aid the American team with their investigation. Barhom manages to bring some warmth and elicits some empathy for our perception of the Arabs. He is a family man and his scenes with them are tender.
The team soon learns that it has to make some major adjustments in its attitudes. Not everyone considers them friends and even those who choose to cooperate are slow in their turnaround. The movie also does a good job of bringing out the differences between cultures. In one light scene, Col. Ghazi is aghast with Leavitt's constant use of profanity and threatens to wash his mouth with soap.
But there are greater issues at stake and "The Kingdom" doesn't flinch in its depiction of the futility of American intent. It clearly points out that the US still needs to learn that it just cannot think it can fix any and every problem. Actually, more often than not, the more it tries to solve things, the more it messes up.
For its attempt to be realistic of American role in foreign affairs and understating the bluster of action movies, "The Kingdom" is worth a watch.