Friday, November 23, 2007

THE KINGDOM: Tensed Thriller

THE KINGDOM (action thriller)

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner
Director: Peter Berg
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? “The Kingdom” starts off with a brief lesson on US relations with Saudi Arabia from the 1930s when oil was discovered in the Arab kingdom, to the events of Sept 11 2001. Saudi Arabia, we are told, is the main exporter of oil – and America is the top consumer.

Next, we are taken to a secure community in Riyadh where foreign oil workers live with their families. This seemingly idyllic setting, of children playing softball and picnicking near the playground, is about to be turned into a war zone. Posing as local policemen, suicide bombers infiltrate the compound, shoot at the residents and blow themselves up – killing more than 100 people, including two FBI agents.

The effects of this disaster are soon felt in Washington, where FBI special agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) prepares his forensic team for an on-site investigation. The team comprises pathologist Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner); computer geek Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman); and explosives expert Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper). After exercising some smart political manoeuvres, Ronald is allowed to fly to the kingdom but he must be constantly guided and guarded by Saudi police colonel Faris Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), who is more concerned about the safety of his charges than in solving the crime.

With only a few days to complete his mission, Ronald finds his job hampered by political constraints and the lack of witnesses. Are the fears for the safety of the Americans justified, or is this a ruse to thwart their investigation?

HITS & MISSES: Directed by Peter Berg, this ‘whodunit’ almost works like a ‘Rambo in Saudi Arabia’ caper, with a wishful revisionist scenario for the American response to fundamentalist terrorism. Unlike the Rambo flicks, however, the action here is rendered more intelligently and realistically, aided in no small way by the professional interactions between Ronald and Faris. After the initial mutual suspicions are overcome, Ronald begins to understand the problems of Faris’ job, and Faris, on the other hand, understands the FBI agent’s priorities.

Both “The Kingdom” and “Lions For Lambs” are written by Matthew Michael Carnahan but the former is a lot more engaging because it takes viewers right into the thick of the action instead of just talking about civic responsibilities and the ‘right of engagement’. There are also some clever touches, like showing how terrorist bombs are made, how hostages are used for propaganda purposes, and how some US politicians (like the Attorney-General, played by Danny Huston) are so out-of-touch with actual events.

However, what I like about “The Kingdom” is that it is not an anti-Muslim propaganda but an insight into the precarious political situation that the two sides find themselves in. Like in “Black Hawk Down”, there is a tensed and suspenseful shootout in which the FBI agents are trapped in a tenement block full of women, children and armed men. This climactic sequence should satisfy the demands of action fans, just as the performances of the accomplished cast complement the plot.

THE LOWDOWN: Director Berg closes the movie with a fitting food for thought: Asked what was on the minds of Ronald and a terrorist leader as they were about to confront their enemy, they both share the same sentiments. World leaders with causes should chew on them.


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