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Sunday, October 28, 2007

THE KINGDOM (2007) - Peter Berg

Now that the western masses have gotten used to the fact that the middle east is the new ‘enemy,’ we’re going to see a whole slew of films that attempt to tackle the issues at the heart of this global conflict. Some of the films will actually make a concerted effort to explain and understand what’s going on in the world. Other films will attempt to cash in. And in between, there’ll be films like Peter Berg’s The Kingdom. The actor cum director’s film is an attempt to tell us that, ya know, the folks over there are just as normal and conflicted as us. But instead, the result is a boring, patronising and clichéd thriller.

The film opens with a montage that briefly explains how the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US has developed over the years. A montage that ends with a CGI plane crashing into a CGI World Trade Centre. Just so the audience is reminded what happened on that terrible day six years ago. It’s a rather stupid thing to put into the film, as it has little bearing on what follows other than to let us know that US-Saudi relations are well, strained. But we don’t need to be reminded of this. In Saudi Arabia, we see a heavily defended US compound that is home to the workers and families of an American oil company. They play softball, have barbeques and enjoy life. Two terrorists dressed as guards initiate an attack on the compound killing many. But this attack is only a precursor for a larger and more devastating attack on the people who try to help the injured and dying. In the US, the FBI is eager to investigate the attack. But due to the strained relations with the Saudis, they’re reluctant to send a team. After some political wrangling, four agents, led by Jamie Foxx jet off to Saudi Arabia to investigate. They team up with a colonel in the Saudi police force who also wants to find out who’s behind the attacks.

I’ve nothing against films with political subtexts. Films like that walk a VERY thin tightrope between uber-jingoistic shoot em ups like Rambo and preachy holier-than thou films. Sometimes these films can be very interesting and open the audience’s eyes to issues they might have only a scant knowledge of. However, The Kingdom, while not jingoistic, does pander to the lowest common denominator in it’s political subtext. The film breaks down into three distinct parts, which is the first problem. Instead of layering the screenplay, the film starts off getting the political part out of the way. The wrangling and red tape is dealt with, the agents find a way to work WITH the Saudis instead of against them. Next up is the CSI Middle East part, with the agents doing their parts to investigate who’s responsible for the attacks. And finally, the action part kicks into gear, where the rest of the film is entirely forgotten about and a ridiculous amount of bullets fly.

When the film does attempt to tackle US-Saudi relations, it does so in an extremely patronising manner. There is no subtlety about anything at all. Foxx and Ashraf Barhom, who plays the Saudi colonel bond over pop-culture. And then we have the breakdown in communication where the US characters use language that the Suadis misunderstand with ‘hilarious’ results. It’s the kind of thing that belongs in Brett Ratner movies and is neither funny nor appropriate in this movie. In fact, Barhom’s character himself is a rather shallow move. He’s absolutely dedicated to finding who’s responsible for the attack, but we don’t need him to tell us he feels that way for the whole time. It’s all too clear the filmmakers are determined to know that he’s a good guy too. Absolutely unnecessary.

As for the acting, the cast with includes Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Jeremy Piven and Danny Huston should all be on form. However, their characters are badly written clichés and therefore, they cant do very much with them. I don’t think their performances are their fault. Bateman, who was brilliant in Arrested Development is the ‘comedy relief,’ yet isn’t funny but incredibly annoying. Exactly the kind of person you wouldn’t want with you in the Middle East. Cooper, who is usually brilliant is the grizzled explosives expert that badly written films of this type always have. In fact, the only actor who is remotely interesting in the film is Ashraf Barhom as Col. Faris Al Ghazi. But again, it’s an incredibly shallow character and leave the actor with very little to do.

I’m sure there will be a good film that tackles the political situation with the Middle East. It’s a subject that has plenty of room for exploration. But The Kingdom is in no way, shape or form, that film. Badly written, paced, acted and directed, it’s a bad film.


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