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January 15, 2008

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DVD of the Week – Review of The Kingdom (2007)

by HELEN GEIB

I saw three distinctly different trailers for The Kingdom. I inferred from this at the time that the movie was proving a hard sell, a conclusion borne out by the modest box office receipts. Perhaps they should have tried cutting a trailer that showed what the movie was actually like instead.

The first trailer was “CSI: Riyadh,” composed of scenes of the investigating team speaking in jargon at the crime scene, a terrorist attack on a foreign residents’ compound. The second trailer was a modified version of the first that added some action scenes and darkly comic dialogue. The third trailer looked like a remix of emi>Blackhawk Down by Michael Mann (not coincidentally one of The Kingdom’s producers; actual director Peter Berg).

It was the third trailer that sold me on seeing The Kingdom (love Michael Mann, loved Blackhawk Down). However, I suspect more people would have been enticed by a trailer that reflected the real story and tone of the film, a contemporary spin on the “big city cop has culture clash with local sheriff leading to deeper mutual understanding” plot. Less “CSI: Riyadh,” more “In the Heat of the Desert.”

The Kingdom‘s big city cop is FBI agent Fleury (played by Jamie Foxx). His team is composed of character types invested with some personality by the actors: the veteran (Chris Cooper); the woman (Jennifer Garner); the wisecracking technogeek (Jason Bateman). The local sheriff character is the Saudi liaison for the FBI team, Col. Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom in the film’s standout performance).

While The Kingdom is spiced with enough chases and shootouts to please any action movie fan, there’s never any doubt that the filmmakers’ real interest lies with the meeting of cultures played out in the relationship between Fleury and Al Ghazi. The Kingdom is not a great film; the plot breaks down at the end under the weight of its contrivances and characterization is shallow. But it is a good film and it deserves more credit than it has received for its humane and sincere efforts to engage with contemporary political realities.

New releases this week: Good Luck Chuck, Mr Woodcock, The Ten


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jan 16 2008

    Is there some Jennifer Garner/Jason Bateman connection I’m not aware of? First Juno, now this. Are they the latter-day, postmodern Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? Oh please oh please oh please.

  2. Miriam
    Jan 16 2008

    I like the “In the Heat of the Desert” comparison, that’s very apt. It is an enjoyable movie because of the developing relationship between the two main characters. I hope we have a chance to see Barhom again, I thought his character/performance made the movie. Which made the ending all the more annoying. This is not a James Bond movie, for crying out loud, so there’s no formula requirement that the second banana has to die. I don’t demand a happy ending on every movie, but with as awkwardly contrived ending as this one why not just wound the nice guys if you need some blood. Unless the whole point of the contrivance is to make some political point that moderates in the Arab world are all doomed. A dubious and heavy load for a middling crime thriller.

  3. Helen
    Jan 16 2008

    My read on the ending is that they were going for maximum emotional impact, and just weren’t original enough to come up with any other way to achieve it. At least I prefer to interpret it that way; while I liked the movie, it was too generic to support a “deep” message.

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