The Kingdom (Berg, 2007)

Peter Berg’s The Kingdom begins with a savage display of post 9/11 horror, but becomes just as closed off in terms of character as the hostile environment it’s American heroes attempt to infiltrate. After a series of terrorist attacks rip apart an American Oil Compound in Saudi Arabia, a team of FBI agents plead and finally win the right to investigate the devastating crime scene. Led by stoic Jamie Foxx (doing a less convincing variation of his great Ricardo Tubbs in Miami Vice), the group includes Jennifer Garner and her off-putting anger toward losing a friend in the blast, Chris Cooper doing the wily old coot routine, and Jason Bateman chiming in for laughs. The material is incredibly serious, yet this group feels amateurish in their professional execution. The movie seems to think this can be attributed to the conflicting environment, where pleasing the ruling Prince’s outweighs the investigation. Failure, as Jeremy Piven’s lame duck State Department Liaison states, is inevitable because of the harsh culture clash and militant strength, yet the Americans never feel too worried. In grand Hollywood fashion, there’s no doubt they’ll get the terrorists responsible. That Foxx and his cohorts are able to communicate with just one noble Arab (Ashraf Barhom) who relates to them, also solidifies Berg’s film as overtly mainstream (by the director’s own admission). The film doesn’t gives any of it’s characters texture, instead letting these good actors attempt to bring dimension where the writing affords none. But somehow, maybe because of the concluding Michael Mann influenced gun battle, The Kingdom ends in amazing fashion with a catastrophic jolt of bullets, RPG’s, and explosions turning a supposedly calm Riyadh into a horrific version of Baghdad. The infection of violence obviously begets more violence, and Berg’s simple themes resonate little in terms of epiphany. However, the similarities in American and Saudi perspective does instigate a devastating critique on the mutual arrogance involved – we are no longer the good guys and the evil Arabs are no longer bad. Over a long term of violent events, from war to war, we’ve become destructive parallels. This is a bold statement for such a mainstream film, but Berg’s intent remains to entertain instead of engage.


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