- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
eter Berg’s “The Kingdom” is a lot like a caramel apple. The sugary outside is the reason everyone takes a bite of the teeth-decaying snack, but the inside offers a healthy balance that, while not entirely necessary, is good for the consumer. In the case of the political thriller “The Kingdom,” Berg has delivered an action-packed film that also serves as a History 101 lesson plan on the 70-year-old relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. It’s a method that commands serious concentration in the first act of the film – with as many characters introduced per minute – but it pays off in the end. And unlike the many other war-themed films set for release in the coming months, this one aims to please first and preach second.
Loosely based on true events, the film opens when terrorists attack a Western housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, igniting diplomatic debates on whether the U.S. has the authority to get involved. After the FBI is denied access to the country, Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) takes things into his own hands, blackmailing the ambassador and forming his own team – including a forensics expert (Jennifer Garner), a bomb expert (Chris Cooper) and an intelligence agent (Jason Bateman) – for a five-day excursion to the Kingdom to help locate the man responsible for the bombing. What Fleury doesn’t realize, however, is that while he’s been given the Prince’s permission to be onsite for the investigation, his team is restricted from interfering. Assigned a babysitter in Saudi Colonel Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum), Fleury soon realizes that Al-Ghazi is the only one capable of helping his team cut through the red tape and bring the criminals to justice.
One of the reasons “The Kingdom” succeeds as both an action film and a political thriller is because its cast is so good. Bateman’s performance as the smart-ass intelligence agent is certainly the most memorable of the group (if not just for the shock of seeing the actor pop up in such serious material), while Garner and Cooper pitch in with roles that – while not entirely important – benefit from the quality of the two actors. Of course, Foxx is the biggest star of the film (and a good friend of producer Michael Mann), and so he gets the juiciest role – that of the hardened FBI agent who forms an unlikely friendship with the Saudi police officer. It’s exactly that relationship that proves to be the most interesting element of the movie, and if nothing else, it’ll earn Barhoum some early buzz come awards time.
In a season that features more anti-war films than ever, it’s refreshing to see someone deliver a movie with big-budget action and smart writing; all of which is made possible thanks to a fantastic script by Matthew Carnahan and the incredibly underrated talent of Peter Berg behind the camera. More concerned with entertaining his audience than earning an Oscar nod, Berg’s direction is near flawless. He doesn’t get too pushy with political statements on the current climate in the Middle East, but they're there in the most diluted form. Along with capturing some of the more flattering shots of the desert in quite some time, Berg aims to show that, despite out differences, bloodlust is innate in all humans. And though he ends that comment on quite a depressing note, it’s hard to deny the validity behind the message. It’s also hard to deny that “The Kingdom” is a blast to watch, because though it does take some time to build to the big finale, it’s totally worth the wait.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Peter Berg’s “The Kingdom” may not have performed to its potential in theaters (I blame post-9/11 overexposure), but Universal delivered an excellent single-disc DVD that’s been made even better with its re-release on Blu-ray. All of the previous extras still appear – the director commentary, the making-of featurette “Creating the Kingdom,” the comprehensive stunt featurette “Constructing the Freeway Sequence,” deleted scenes and an interactive timeline – while the inclusion of Universal’s U-Control feature beefs up that section even more. The new extras are a bit hit-and-miss, but the picture-in-picture video track delivers additional behind-the-scenes footage, while “Character by Character: The Apartment Shootout” allows viewers to watch each character’s perspective of that sequence in its entirety. It’s always nice to see a Blu-ray release that improves on more than just the video and sound, and “The Kingdom” is a great example. Here's hoping the studios catch on.