Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Kingdom

The verdict: Slick, tense thriller with plenty of smarts and bucketloads of action.

The rating: 7/10

Nothing at all to do with County Kerry, 'The Kingdom' tells the story of the FBI's attempts to investigate a large-scale attack on an Western housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabian. Ronald Fleury (Foxx) heads the investigation team pushing to put their boots on Saudi soil, but the the complex political backdrop, as well as high-profile nature of the atrocity, means that they are not entirely welcome.

The American brass are initially unwilling to send FBI investigators to Saudi on the grounds that they are targets for the fundamentalist Muslim attackers who committed the original atrocity, and that their presence would render the situation even more unstable. The Saudis, for their part, are unwilling to allow interference in their own investigation, especially from non-Muslims. The presence of a female investigator is also a cause for some concern. Cue some serious political wrangling from Fleury.

Once in Saudi, the team are reluctantly assisted in their investigation by a Saudi Colonel, played with real presence by Ashraf Barhom, and the initially frosty association between Foxx and his guide slowly develops into a mutually beneficial working relationship. You know, the old 'frosty at first' kind of deal.

The movie is essentially a tense investigation book-ended by two long action set-pieces, and this structure works well. The investigation is well scripted, and builds the tension well, with all five central characters likeable enough to win the audience over. And why not, when the supporting cast is this good? Chris Cooper is amiable enough as the bomb site investigator, and Jennifer Garner works well; even if she does spend a lot of the movie crying, each episode of tears is thoroughly warranted. Jason Bateman too, continues his career resurgence with a creditable performance as the comic foil, and he has some great one-liners, which serve as a welcome coping mechanism for the audience as the tension builds. Jeremy Piven also has a nice turn as an American foreign department official, popping up every now and again to try and persuade the team to return home, before they do any political damage.

As for the action, well there is a moment about an hour into the movie where things suddenly take a turn into '24' territory, but it works very well. The action is visceral, realistic, and very much in the Paul Greengrass style, with hand-held shaky-cams following the cast, and everything ticking along at a relentless pace. Bullets, grenades and rockets fly, and we are right in the thick of it.

I have reservations about Jamie Foxx as a leading man, but he does a decent job here, despite still needing serious elecution lessons. The script is tight, with almost every central character likeable enough to root for. My only quibble was the Saudi Colonel. Foreign heroes in American movies must be god-fearing, squeaky-clean and have young kids for some reason, and his presence in the movie unfortunately reminded me of the away missions on the old Star Trek shows. Imagine Kirk (Foxx), Bones (Bateman), Spock (Cooper) and Uhura (Garner) beaming down to a planet with an anonymous red-shirted crew member, and you get the idea of the Saudi character's precarious position, right from the opening scenes.

That said, this is a quality movie, a diverting, well-written, actioner with a liekable cast, and PCMR heartily gives it two thumbs up.

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