The Kingdom

October, 2007, Drama

Directed by:Peter Berg

Starring:Jamie Foxx, Ashraf Barhom, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Kyle Chandler, Richard Jenkins, Jeremy Piven, and Ali Suliman

Jingoism: Extreme and emotional nationalism, or chauvinism, often characterized by an aggressive foreign policy, accompanied by an eagerness to wage war.

American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 3rd ed.

Who says that Hollywood doesn’t make propaganda movies the way it used too? In the midst of the current crop of high-quality films taking a hard look at the moral implications of America’s role in Iraq comes this gung-ho action flick which finds the F.B.I. fighting dastardly terrorists in Saudi Arabia. (Wait; isn’t that agency’s jurisdiction exclusively domestic?)  Just ignore the plot’s silly improbabilities, cardboard characters and Bush-inspired “bring ‘em on” leitmotif and treat yourself to a couple of hours of kick-ass violence; this one’s for the alpha-male gene in all of us.

Peter Berg, the energetic force behind Friday Night Lights (both the under-rated film and television series) directs this rah-rah exercise starring Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as a quartet of specialists from the Federal Bureau of Investigation who finagle their way into an investigation of a bloody attack on an American civilian compound in Riyadh. Following a trail of clues so obvious they beg to be tripped over, the intrepid foursome dines with royalty, violates local dress codes, punches out members of the local police force and wraps up the action with an armed assault that resembles Gunfight at the O.K. Coral on speed.

Despite employing every cinematic cliché since the days of D.W. Griffith, Berg manages to make Kingdom a damn good time at the movies, if you can abide its extraordinarily high body count; his bad guys are really bad and the ferocity of the terrorist attack and the atavistic F.B.I. response carry a visceral punch worthy of comparison with the genre’s best directors. Berg’s style owes a big debt to Sam Fuller, (Fixed Bayonets!, The Steel Helmet, Pickup on South Street) the action film guru who enlivened so many B-movies  in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s and who once said that movement was what movies were all about; actors in motion, preferably on a moving set, filmed with tracking shots rather than stationary ones. Berg’s cameras seem to be everywhere at once, now focused on the innocent activities of someone vulnerable, next on the sly machinations of sinister opponents; trucks barrel into the frame, cars bounce off the tarmac like ping-pong balls, walls react to explosives by erupting in chaotic frenzy…all this inter-cut with gleeful abandon by editors Colby Parker Jr. and Kevin Stitt. If the film’s cinematography and kinetic pacing aren’t quite as polished and sophisticated as those found in the Bourne series, Berg provides more than enough sheer bravado to make up the difference; the climatic shootout to which The Kingdom builds is simply enthralling. Let’s hope this interesting director’s next film provides a level of plot and character development to match his obvious technical skills at mayhem.

The verdict? A great big, rip-roaring guilty pleasure for action movie fans. 

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