Primal instincts and politics join bloody hands, one covering the other, in terms of international relations with Middle East countries. For every hope talks and diplomacy will succeed, there’s a nagging nugget for some that perhaps the right take-no-prisoners incursion could be the answer.
The Kingdom is crisp and fast-paced, boasting a blistering action finale that blows by like a dizzying combination of Black Hawk Down and Clear and Present Danger. Peter Berg’s film still has at least half a concussed brain to discuss Mideast unease and uncertainty and, to a lesser degree, the warping potential of bloodlust.
Still, as chillingly blunt (liberals may cry conservative) as The Kingdom’s finale is, it elicits little deep discussion. With time to breathe in a reported original 150-minute cut, it might have. Instead, Berg has whittled The Kingdom down to 110 minutes of buddy-cop formula in which Americans and Saudis get righteously tactical together. If it’s a hit, look for a better director’s cut on DVD.
During a softball game at an oil-company housing complex in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, bullets tear into siding, pavement and flesh once gunmen and suicide bombers descend. The relentlessly visceral wave of attacks is staged not to hop up, but horrify, though it’s but a chilling overture to a terrorist symphony of destruction.
Although it’s the FBI’s jurisdiction to investigate crimes against Americans on foreign soil, political tap-dancing, with choreography from beholden oil interests, prevents any official dispatch to Saudi Arabia. There, the royal family can’t afford the appearance of losing ground or power, even on its face.
Enter Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), a fed with personal ties to a victim who blackmails his way into a black-book operation with cohorts Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman). Battling bureaucracy and tradition to follow the evidence, they’re led to notorious terrorist Abu Hamza, and they quickly become his next target.
With some prime-steak dialogue, Matthew Carnahan’s script nails latent international tensions and complicated webs of blame and inactivity in the situation. On site and in offices away from danger, these snarling bulldog nations are kept apart only by their chains’ strength and length.
If only the lead characters were a bit more complex. Foxx is more interesting playing a person who needs a bit of saving himself than the tough-talking butt-kickers he’s largely played since his Oscar win. Bateman fires off a few good wisecracks, but it’s easy to see he’s just plot bait. Garner’s weeping-but-fighting female is a comedown from her accomplishments on her old TV show, Alias. And Cooper literally is given nothing to do but crouch in the fiery finale, when shoulder-to-air missiles fly, mags empty, SUVs explode and knives unpleasantly plunge into tissue.
None of them is worse, though, than Jeremy Piven, again recycling his smarmy Entourage shtick as a state department attaché.
There are good performances here, and, should a director’s cut see the light of day, it should only make them better. Ashraf Barhom offers affectation-free work as a Saudi colonel who begrudgingly assists the quartet before befriending them. Plus, veteran character actors Richard Jenkins and Danny Huston share a great confrontational scene in which their respective FBI director and attorney general hash out the transitory nature of politics.
Even in diluted form, Berg’s film traffics in the reality that, all barking ideologies aside, the layman American’s viewpoint on Mideast conflicts probably is stuck somewhere between rah-rah and wrung hands. If there were an easy reconciliation to those ideas, there’d be no films like The Kingdom to wrestle — or, in this case, grapple and slap — with the questions.