The opening scenes of The Kingdom” quickly trace our involvement in the Middle East: 1933, Oil discovered in Saudi Arabia; 1938: The Americans come. 1945, FDR meets publicly with the Saudi leaders. 2001, fifteen of the nineteen terrorists who take down the World Trade Center are Saudis.
The scene shifts to a horrific terrorist attack that kills families of U.S. civilians playing softball at the U.S. compound in Riyadh. After the first response team arrives, a second, far larger explosion is unleashed on a whole outdoors full of civilian adults and their children. It’s grim, grisly, horrific, and largely unexaggerated according to the actual footage we watch each night on CNN.
But when the scene shifts to the fictional action flick that is on the minds of writer Matthew Carnahan and director Peter Berg, the train jumps the tracks. We meet Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, and Jennifer Garner at FBI headquarters in Washington where they are determined to carry out their mission as lead agency in protecting U.S. citizens. When the State Department and the White House refuse permission, the team circumvents them in a covert flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Saudi Arabia. Tell me another.
After the team arrives, the momentum sinks into the slow pace of investigation while Jamie Foxx assumes the attitude of the personal avenger. Cooper, Garner, and Foxx are competent enough, but their characters are undeveloped and finally boring. The picture is stolen by Ashraf Barhom who plays the honorable Arab detective who teams with the Americans to identify the terrorists. Barhom has the emotional weight to play a role in a complex story; so does the fine actor, Chris Cooper. But Jamie Foxx is way off key. He seems not to know whether he is acting in a thriller or a documentary. Lacking any understanding or new thinking about the Middle East, the movie takes on the feel of a “Die Hard” film.
The whole situation is alien and confusing to most of us in America who, try as we may, have a devil of a time trying to understand centuries of Middle Eastern culture and anger – at each other and at us. The movie reminds us of 5000 Saudi princes, each with a palace of his own, all built indirectly by Exxon, Shell, Chevron and their fellow oil companies who have been buying oil for decades to satisfy both the needs and pleasures of a profligate United States. The good news is that truly competent people are beginning to weigh in on the subject. We have read “the Looming Tower” by Lawrence Wright and we have seen the superb movie, “In the Valley of Elah.”
What can be said of “The Kingdom”? Clearly, that the movie is convincing only in the early documentary- style scenes. It is a pretender that sinks in the shadow of other genuine contributions. What we don’t need is the Middle East as action entertainment.
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