By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Not to be dismissed as simply another generic action flick loaded with explosives and several rounds of ammunition, “The Kingdom” has a message and with the Middle East turmoil serving as a backdrop and an all-star ensemble it’s a significant and disturbing message.
When a deadly bombing attack targets Americans in Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh region, a counterterrorism squad is dispatched to find the culprits in five days. Once they arrive in the desert, the U.S. agents (an ensemble that includes Foxx as the group’s leader) learn that in these parts, they are the true enemy. With their investigation hampered by local bureaucracy, the team soon realizes they may be the terrorists’ next target.
Politics and religion serve as two major themes in “The Kingdom” which aptly explores the political climate in the Middle East without supplying an educational tirade. Director Peter Berg (The Rundown) conceived the idea whilst watching news coverage of the infamous 1996 Khoba Towers terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 Americans and claims to be the only American filmmaker ever to be granted a visa to film in Saudi Arabia. “The Saudi culture is not designed to accommodate Westerners, particularly FBI agents, and I was reading about the FBI’s frustrations and attempts and I thought it was an interesting idea for a film which I then went and discussed with Michael Mann [producer]. I wanted to make a film that dealt with religious extremism and a thriller which people will be scared, pumped, thrilled and emotional over,” says Berg.
“The Kingdom” at its core is about FBI agents trying to investigate a series of homicides in a complicated environment and despite its stance, it maintains a balanced political perspective given the one-sided view of human terrorists in the Middle East. Berg does a remarkable job in presenting Saudi Colonel Al Ghazi (Barhom) who is assigned to protect the FBI agents as humanized and without political judgment nor affiliations. “It’s important to me to present a moderate Arab and someone who is interested in battling religious extremism as we appear to be and it’s my experience that the great majority of Saudis that I encounter are moderate and I try to make him as balanced as I could,” Berg says. There’s a lot of improvisation in “Kingdom” particularly by the Oscar winner Foxx as Special Agent Ronald Fleury who injects his brand of quick wit humor with several catchy one liners including a jab at Lakers athlete Kobe Bryan and a shout out to his hometown of Terrell, Texas. In one scene when Foxx is introduced to a Saudi official who allegedly knows Osama Bin Laden he quips that if he could find Osama it would mean a huge promotion for him back home.
Despite being an explosive action thriller, “The Kingdom” is not perfect and has that unrealistic Hollywood action edge where the hero saves the day plus the jumpy camerawork injected to enhance the viewing experience boarders on over kill spoiling the actual viewing experience, but it is the fusing of action and its politically neutral message that makes it work. “The film very much says we are all the same and that is what I love about it,” claims Garner who plays Janet Mayes, the FBI forensics examiner and the sole female cast.
Well researched and balanced, this is an intense action flick where the best thing isn’t necessarily the action but the overall portrayal of American and Arab cultures – both targets of religious violence sharing a common interest in battling religious extremism and politics together.