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Arts & Culture

The Kingdom

Jamie Foxx plays FBI Agent Ronald Fleury. When a terrorist bomb blows up an American facility in Saudi Arabia, Fleury wants to take his crack team out into the field to try and find the necessary evidence to track down the terrorists. Fleury knew someone who was killed, so he's taking a personal interest in seeing justice done. Despite opposition from various sources, Fleury eventually gets the OK to bring Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), Janet Mayes ( Alias' Jennifer Garner) and Adam Leavit ( Arrested Development's Jason Bateman) with him to Saudi Arabia.


Jennifer Garner in The Kingdom (Universal)

Once in the Middle East, this American team faces a different set of problems. They have to navigate through a different culture, a royal family as well as social and political turmoil. There's also the issue of having a woman working as part of the team. Through all this, Fleury begins to form a bond with his Arab counterpart, Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom from Paradise Now ). Despite friction and antagonism, the two sides find a middle ground where they can work.

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Director Berg and writer Matthew Michael Carnahan keep The Kingdom well within genre expectations -- but in a good way. They keep the action moving fast, they follow the kind of formula that fans of CSI will be able to follow, and they work with tersely drawn character types familiar to the action genre. Yet within all these formula and genre elements, the filmmakers slip in some sly comments about how screwed up things are and about the huge obstacles facing those who want to bring an end to terrorism by punishing those who commit violent terrorist acts. The grim and rather unexpected note this Hollywood movie ends on is that how can you bring an end to violence when each side is thoroughly convinced that they are right and that they are the ones delivering God's or Allah's justice. While Berg and Carnahan don't condone acts of terrorist violence, they do try to suggest that there are two sides to the issues, and if you can't understand the opposing side, how can you ever expect to stop them. And while the film is not anti-American, it is critical about aspects of the U.S. government and its policies, and it calls into question whether violence is always the correct response to violence. If violence only begets more violence, do we need to try and think of other responses to terrorism and to think of other ways to satisfy the need for justice, which can sometimes look to others like revenge.


Director Peter Berg with actors Ali Suliman and Ashraf Barhom (Universal)

If you don't want to bother thinking about these kinds of ideas, The Kingdom offers a solid action thriller that proves engrossing. Working with what are essentially stock characters, Berg fills the Arab roles with actors who suggest more depth and nuance that is written into the script. The relationship between Foxx and Barhom follows along the lines of relationships depicted between men of different backgrounds in films such as In the Heat of the Night . We see them grow to understand and respect each other. Barhom, who excelled in a very different tale of terrorism Paradise Now, makes his Arab soldier a compelling and sympathetic family man. He suggests the complexities of what his character is coping with even though the script shows little interest in spending much time on Al Ghazi's life.

On the American side, Chris Cooper is the one who steals the acting kudos. Despite the predictability of his character, he's always entertaining to watch. Foxx, Garner and Bateman (all with early training in TV) are fine but not exceptional in standard roles.

I also want to compliment the film's slick, clever opening credits, which tries to summarize the history of the Middle East in a three minute animated sequence that runs information through a kind of MTV pop filter so that it's visually appealing, fast moving and ironic. Although the facts are not developed in depth and a lot of information is glossed over, I give the film credit for at least trying to place contemporary issues regarding the Middle East into some kind of context. And for mainstream audiences who may not want to sit through an enlightening documentary on the Mid-East conflict, they will most likely swallow this abbreviated history lesson without any complaints.

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Berg, who displayed a more over the top flair for action in The Rundown, handles the more realistic violence here well. Although Michael Mann (of Miami Vice fame) serves as producer, Berg displays a much different style of action than Mann. Berg's action and violence is less stylized and more gritty and abrupt.

Taut and focused, The Kingdom (rated R for intense sequences of graphic brutal violence and for language) delivers solid action and a smattering of sarcastic political commentary.

Companion viewing: Very Bad Things , Three Kings , Paradise Now