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Peter T Chattaway

The Kingdom

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Just wondering, has anyone else seen this film yet? It's directed by Peter Berg, a TV star who occasionally directs feature films, and his short resume is already a fairly eclectic one; it includes the gritty drama of small-town high-school football as seen in Friday Night Lights (2004; he's also involved in the TV show of that name), the bachelor-party-gone-bad tasteless black comedy of Very Bad Things (1998), and now this new political thriller about Saudi terrorists and the FBI team that goes into Riyadh to deal with them -- if only it can get past all the various diplomatic protocols first.

I caught the film last night, and I know of other screenings coming up next week, but the film doesn't actually open until September 28 ... so the studio is definitely trying to get the word out. (They do, in fact, call these early screenings "word-of-mouth screenings".) It stars at least two Oscar winners (Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper), as well as Jennifer Garner and Ali Suliman, whose only other film to date (at least as far as the IMDb is concerned) is Paradise Now (2005), in which he played one of the two would-be suicide bombers.

I won't say anything review-ish about this film yet, but a thought did occur to me. This film reminded me a bit of The Siege, but in one sense only: Both films are about Arab-American relations, in a sense, and the primary American character (or should I say non-Arab American character) is black rather than white (Denzel Washington in The Siege, Jamie Foxx in The Kingdom). Is this meant to purge (or at least dilute) the film's depiction of Arab-American relations of anything that might hint of white-colonial-imperialist-oppressor baggage? The friend with whom I saw the film said that there have been a couple other films and TV shows -- I forget the titles -- which seem to have followed similar casting strategies.

Interesting, BTW, to see Cooper play a "good" federal agent this time around -- and one with a sense of humour, at that -- after seeing him play the "bad", humourless kind in Breach (2007) and the first two Bourne movies (2002-2004).

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All I know of this is what I've seen in the preview before The Borne Ultimatum. Can't say I'm a huge fan of Peter Berg as a director. (He's also acted in a few movies.) Very Bad Things was pretty awful, but I have to say The Rundown was an improvement. I noticed him as a run of the mill, doubting police captain in Collateral and my suspicion was that he just took the job just to get close to Michael Mann. Sure enough, Mann is listed as a producer on The Kingdom. That alone has me interested.

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Almost every movie I've seen this summer had a trailer for the Kingdom beforehand. I have to say that after the second viewing I've actually warmed up a good deal to it. I'd like to see it. The cast seems strong, and I got a huge Clear and Present Danger vibe from one or two of the scenes.

I agree about Berg being a hit-or-miss director, but maybe he's learned some things from Mann? Let's hope.

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Variety:

Shouldn't terrorism be treated as crime -- that is, as a civil rather than military matter? It's a question that's at the heart of the Iraq War debate, and it's one raised loudly and clearly by "The Kingdom," a realist thriller that mixes crowd-pleasing mayhem with provocative politics. Although burdened by far more procedure than plot, this Jamie Foxx vehicle -- which owes a great deal to the high-caliber style of its co-producer, Michael Mann -- is quietly jingoistic, in a way guaranteed to sell auds on the idea that what's truly American is about more than disputed foreign policy. . . .

Rather than a "Rambo"-esque vengeance-is-mine retribution story, however, auds get something akin to "Adventures in Bureaucracy." Al Ghazi tries to thwart Fleury's every move for fear that the latter will upset the status quo, shaky as it is, and the American movie heroes, being American movie heroes, treat the poor Saudi colonel like an idiot. Eventually, stuff starts blowing up. You're glad it does. . . .

"The Kingdom," for the most part, tries to be a serious drama about an ongoing crisis, begging the question of whether a movie attempting to spark serious debate should be pandering to the worst instincts of its audience. On the other hand, this isn't exactly "Frontline."Berg adopts a faux-doc shooting style that becomes a tiresome exercise in the kind of handheld camerawork that perhaps once implied immediacy but now implies a lack thereof. "The Kingdom" doesn't have the complexity of "Syriana," nor the real-life pathos of "A Mighty Heart," but it's equally spasmodic, to no real end. More drama and less frustrated action might have kept this "Kingdom" from falling. . . .

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I watched the film at a sneak preview last night. The best part about it was the very slick opening credits. It makes one Muslim, likeable, and ends the film on the note that the U.S. and Terrorism are moral equivalent.

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Michael Todd wrote:

: The best part about it was the very slick opening credits.

Definitely impressive -- even if they possibly set up expectations that the film as a whole can't meet.

: It makes one Muslim, likeable, and ends the film on the note that the U.S. and Terrorism are moral equivalent.

Well, sort of, maybe, but also not quite, maybe. Personally, I thought the idea that

Jamie Foxx would say "We'll kill them all"

rang false, UNLESS what he meant by that was "

We'll kill ALL THE TERRORISTS

." If that is what he meant, then there wouldn't be any moral equivalence between what he said and what the other guy said. But if the film expects us to believe that he meant the morally-equivalent thing instead, then yeah, the ending does seem kind of forced -- and kind of tacked on, at the same time.

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I usually try to do something to help keep reflective around 9/11 on a regular basis. After watching this again, I think it's probably one of the best, most thoughtful and respectful films on the subject of terrorism and western/eastern culture that we have so far (after tons of these films being made in the last 9 years).

I also didn't remember how haunting the ending was.

It doesn't seem to be making everyone morally equivalent at the end at all. The difference between good and evil, and between characters trying to do the right thing and the terrorists has been clear through the entire film. Faris (Ashraf Barhom) is constantly held up in contrast to his surrounding culture, and yet he's still a part of that culture. The two whispered lines at the end of the film aren't demonstrating any sort of moral justification. What they strictly demonstrate to the viewer is simply an impending sense of the immovable resolve on both sides (along with the dreadful sense that, in spite of the unlikely but wonderful friendships built in this story, there really are two sides). A much more open-ended sort of ending, rather than a "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" conclusion. The fact that both sides have a steely resolve obviously does not mean both sides are morally equivalent, particularly in light of the story you just finished watching.

There's a certain lack of self-worth and liberty within Islamic eastern culture, and The Kingdom demonstrates this through Faris' struggle to think and act for himself. There's a certain arrogance and insensitivity to the eastern values of humility and honor within western culture, and Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper demonstrate this as well. Part of what makes the story is that Barhom and Foxx's characters both learn how to overcome some of these problems - and yet, it still doesn't completely fix the problem of terrorism.

I'd say The Kingdom does a better job at distinguishing regular mainstream Moslem people from the terrorists than other allegedly more broad-minded films like Syriana were able to.

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