The Kingdom

Year: 2007
Studio: Universal
Director: Peter Berg
Producer: Michael Mann
Writer: Mathew Michael Carnahan
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, Richard Jenkins, Jeremy Piven, Danny Huston
Among director of commercial Hollywood movies, I think Peter Berg is one of the best. He has a great storyteller's eye, and in this film he aimed for and reached the best of the Scott brothers as far as socio-political realism. He's aided here by producer Michael Mann and writer Carnahan which undoubtedly helps, but The Kingdom is still a solid film that does everything it sets out to achieve.

The politics themselves you have to leave aside to a large extent - it's another story of America kicking arse in blind vengeance in a foreign country it shouldn't be as mixed up in as it is. A lot of criticism of the film early on centred on the film descending into another US warzone wish fulfilment fantasy, but I thought it did a good job of delivering on such gung ho, go get 'em action and then slipped a tiny and very subversive kernel of satire in right at the end.

While the locked and loaded Americans with their modern weapons and self-assurance of their divine right, pledge to 'kill them all' (among those who've hurt them and the ones they love), the impoverished, suicidal Arabs with no weapons but their religious fervour are promising each other the exact same thing.

But like Three Kings was to the Iraq war, it's the first mainstream Hollywood movie to seriously shine a light on the seamy, tenuous relationship the US shares with Saudi Arabia - even if most of the power of the investigation is in the explanatory notes during the opening credits.

But just as where Hancock succeeded, Berg is accomplished at combining a good idea with solid entertainment. The characters feel real thanks to naturalistic performances and a good script, the plot moves at a cracking pace and everything from the settings to the dialogue are top notch.

A terrorist bomb in an American worker compound in Saudi Arabia devastates the community and the US security apparatus sits on its hands so as not to tread on the toes of its rich client state while they make a token investigation of the incident.

A crack FBI investigations team negotiate aggressively to be taken inside to learn the truth and are saddled with a Saudi police advisor who's more a jailer than a helper, making sure they don't overstep the very restrictive bounds put on them.

While the official investigation blunders, Fleury (Foxx) and his team zero in on the truth and the likely suspect, and it's there that a dramatic shoot out and rescue operation in a dangerous neighbourhood leads them to their goal.

Even the few corny pop culture riffs (like the universal terror of ending up beheaded on a YouTube video) are well handled, and the whole thing is a thrill of the Hollywood even while not as much the political variety.

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