The Kingdom (Universal Pictures, R)

kingdom1.jpgThe script encompasses almost more than one script should, but Carnahan pulls it off flawlessly. The conflict between cultures, beliefs and even members of the same country creates tension between nearly every character. Carnahan is gifted, however, at interspersing just enough levity and humor to keep the film from having a one-note feel.

 

 

 

 

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I have a feeling filmgoers this fall are going to be hard-pressed to find a movie that is as intelligent, complex and thrilling as The Kingdom, the latest movie from director Peter Berg. The story hits close to home for us as Americans as we are continually being reminded that we have no idea where and when the next terrorist attack will take place.

The movie opens with an abbreviated history lesson of Saudi Arabia and its ties with terrorists and America. Mixed with authentic television footage, the opening montage sets the audience up for a world where truth and lies, good and bad, hero and villain are not clear-cut delineations.

At a compound for American workers of an oil refinery inside the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an afternoon picnic for the employees and their families is attacked by terrorists who have infiltrated the compound disguised as compound guards. A suicide bomber detonates a device in the middle of the crowded festivities and later a second bomb takes out part of the hospital. Confusion, chaos and pandemonium sweep through the compound and the surviving families.

FBI Agent Ronald Fluery (Jamie Foxx) assembles a team of agents to travel to Saudi Arabia to investigate the bombing and possible suspects. Fluery is joined by forensics expert Agent Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), bomb expert Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) and Agent Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman). The agents are babysat by Captain Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum) of the Saudi police who does not like the Americans’ presence and gives them little access at the outset of their investigation which is limited to only five days. 

After several false starts, the team discovers the man behind the bombings is Abu Hamza, a known terrorist suspect who has eluded the police for years. After several more incidents and more proof that he cannot trust even his own countrymen, Al-Ghazi begins helping Fluery and his team in order to capture the man who will likely continue killing more and more people unless he is caught.

The movie was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (brother of Smokin’ Aces writer-director Joe Carnahan) whose other movie Lions for Lambs, which is equally as political and anticipated, is being released just a few months after The Kingdom. The script encompasses almost more than one script should, but Carnahan pulls it off flawlessly. The conflict between cultures, beliefs and even members of the same country creates tension between nearly every character. Carnahan is gifted, however, at interspersing just enough levity and humor to keep the film from having a one-note feel.

Berg continues to impress as a director who can balance action and serious material without either appearing misplaced. Say what you will about Friday Night Lights, but Berg created a great sense of symbiosis in that film which he also brings to The Kingdom. Thankfully, the studios chose to release the movie later in the year where it won’t be compared to The Bourne Ultimatum and other summer action films because it is quite the opposite. It is a serious political and global movie in which explosions, car chases and gunfights arise out of the plot, not the other way around.

The last half hour of the movie is about as intense and exciting as any movie in recent memory. Berg’s superb control of the material prevents the nonstop action from feeling drawn out or unrealistic. With an excellent cast of actors, the solid storytelling and the twists of The Kingdom are a welcome end to the monotony of the mundane season of summer blockbusters. | Matthew F. Newlin

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