Theatrical Review: Peter Berg
's The Kingdom will either rally those in the theater or piss off every single ticket holder in sight. It's gonna be awesome. Indeed, sardonic catcalls of "kill all the towelheads!" were shouted at the press screening I attended while the rest of the theater applauded with rigorous aplomb as Jennifer Garner
jammed a knife into a Saudi terrorist's nether regions. This was all preceded by some daft bollock yammering on his cellphone during the opening credits while another patron quietly threatened castration. Only in New York, ladies and gents.
Why will people be so divisive, you ask? Well, in The Kingdom, a compound of Americans in the Saudi Arabia capital of Riyadh are bombed. Subsequently, the reaction team, led by Agent Manner (Kyle Chandler), falls victim to a much larger, hidden bomb that is disguised as an ambulance gurney. Berg employs Jamie Foxx
to seduce, threaten, and charm his way into Saudi airspace as Agent Fleury, fighting to get his team of quickdraws into Riyadh to get all forensic with the crime scene. No such luck, Honcho: Seems that the local fuzz won't have any of it and keep a real vice on Fleury and his team's "oo-rah" attitude. That is until Prince Thamer gives tactical command over to the pandering Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), who sees eye-to-eye with the FBI team and their American-outlaw brand of badassery. Article continues below
If you can say one thing about Berg's Saudi action-a-go-go, it's not bashful about its politics at all. Foxx and Garner, along with Chris Cooper
and Jason Bateman
, might have a hard time getting into Saudi Arabia, but once they do, Berg's trigger/detonator finger goes AWOL. This Team America rhetoric preposterously fits the bill, allowing the crew to get the job done and eventually hone in on the big bad terrorist man, Abu Hamza. Though the thought of Bush ever actually allowing anything so dangerous as a straightened paper clip into Saudi Arabia is patently ridiculous, the rest of the film blusters with his specific brand of let-God-sort-'em-out politics. The fact that neither the man's name nor any realistic political figure exists in Berg's world makes the message all the more troubling.
Berg's main work so far has been on the film and television adaptations of H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights, both of which have been a resounding success. As an action director, Berg obviously yanks the DNA from the great Michael Mann (who serves as a producer here) and even shoots it in high-def video like Mann's Miami Vice. To be fair (and honest), the action moves and cuts intensely. In the film's climactic car chase and the preceding taking of a terrorist funhouse, the suspense effectively peaks. However, the dangerous politics are too hard to ignore. Berg's final lines, one said by Foxx and the other by a young terrorist-to-be, stink of pandering and a beguiling quick-change. It doesn't work, and ultimately neither does The Kingdom, even when the action hits high throttle.