‘The Kingdom’ tackles terrorism, politics in Middle East | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘The Kingdom’ tackles terrorism, politics in Middle East

Howie Nave
From left, Jennifer Garner, Ali Suliman, Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper star in "The Kingdom." (Frank Connor / Universal)

Proving that talent can be hereditary, screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan (brother of writer/director Joe Carnahan) paints an image of violence in a culture at war with itself as told through the camera by director Peter Berg (“Very Bad Things,” “Friday Night Lights”).

Movies that parallel our times I have found interesting, because usually the filmmakers are making a commentary on our current status on the world stage — in the case of “The Kingdom,” a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia on an American oil company and its employees and their families. While the car chases, gun battles and explosions were nail-biting, if not impressive, I wonder if some will find the film a little on the “Rambo” side.

Peter Berg has a lot riding on this film. With a rash of post-9/11 themed movies coming out lately, it’s sometimes easy to just lump them all together, but then that wouldn’t be fair. There have been a couple of noteworthy films out there, including Tommy Lee Jones’ “Valley of Elah,” and also “Lions for Lambs.” While these movies have received positive reviews, their box office receipts have been less than stellar. Unfortunately, some of the best-made movies don’t always equal a good take at the door.

“The Kingdom” is based (albeit loosely) on the 1996 bombings of The Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The film sets up the background of the country in question to drive home why their culture and religion are intertwined and how the West is viewed.

American interests reside near the town of Riyadh and fall under attack in what seems like waves, killing families (and Saudis) that number 100 on the compound. Yes, oil is part of the equation, and soon a team of feds are called in to investigate the massacre. The team consists of Ron Fleury (Jamie Foxx), Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner) and Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper).

Chris Cooper has never been more solid, and he is, in my book, the most believable character. As much as I like Jennifer Garner, for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why her character would be allowed in this part of the world in the first place to unravel the crime. Her job as a forensic specialist is in part to examine the bodies, and a Western woman doesn’t play too well in an Arab country for obvious reasons. Jamie Foxx is almost too over-the-top, making decisions based on both his instincts and ego.

Characters you’ll probably despise include Jeremy Piven as local State Department official Damon Schmidt, and Danny Huston as U.S. Attorney General Gideon Young.

Berg drives his point home, though, having Americans with their brash style in conflict with a culture that hasn’t entered the 18th century. Harsh? Maybe, but one can’t help but wonder why their rules are at times archaic, with more red tape and cover-ups than in our country. Our FBI team is also at odds with diplomats over there from our own country. I’ll say this, though: Director Berg is passionate and has no qualms pulling out the emotional angst that you’ll feel, and justifies some of the violence performed to achieve the objective.

I’m not too familiar with actor Ashraf Barhom, but his character as the chief local investigator, Colonel Faris Al Ghazi, was not only powerful but you can see the frustration he has with his hands tied as to what the American agents can and cannot do. In a way, he alone represents the tension that exists between the two cultures. “The Kingdom” almost tries too hard to lend itself credibility, wanting at times to be more than an action/political thriller.

— Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including Sirius Radio. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews on RSN.

Keepin’ it reel:

Now Playing: “The Kingdom”

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman, Jeremy Piven, Richard Jenkins, Kyle Chandler, Frances Fisher, Danny Huston, Kelly AuCoin, Minka Kelly, Amy Hunter, Tj Burnett, Raad Rawi and Mahmoud Said

Directed by: Peter Berg

Rated: R for intense sequences of graphic, brutal violence, and for language

Running time: 112 minutes

Howie gives it: 3 out of 5 bagels

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