Friday, August 10, 2012

Film Cemetery

Case Study #14

Where we explore the more 
obscure movies that bombed
The Kingdom

A rather good movie that isn't 
quite sure what it wants to be.....

This is a rare entry for Film Cemetery. I think, more than anything, moviegoers and critics missed the point of this 2007 Peter Berg film. 

Perhaps 9/11 was still fresh in everyone's mind, and they instantly took note of the political side of the conflict in this story - and it rubbed them the wrong way.

I can certainly understand their feelings, but I didn't see it that way.

More on that in a moment.

The Kingdom did not fare well with audiences or critics alike. As I have explained before, I think studio heads consider a film viable and a success when it earns back its budget in the U.S. market...that way, overseas earning are pure gravy.

The Kingdom earned less than half its budget back here in the states - and that's a definite fail.

I, for one, rather liked it. Allow me to explain.

A lot of people accused The Kingdom of Saudi-bashing. That the film had a political agenda. That it was a ridiculous portrayal of the relationship between countries that sponsor terrorism and the United States. 

I don't see it that way. At all.

The Kingdom, at its core, is a murder investigation by Americans in a foreign, hostile environment. Think about that for a moment.

There is a British crime novelist that I enjoy very much named John Burdette. His main character is a Thai police detective that investigates horrible murders in Bangkok.

So, instead of the typical 'gritty detective solves murder' story - Burdette gives us a 'gritty Thai detective solves murder while skirting unbelievable Third-World corruption' story.

Do you see the difference? The same exact thing is happening in The Kingdom.

We are introduced to a game of softball being played by a bunch of average looking Americans. And it's explained to us that these are oil company workers living in a walled compound in Saudi Arabia. 

Gunmen, disguised as Saudi security forces, attack the homes in the compound, then a bomb is set off. During the emergency response, a second - and much larger - bomb explodes. The FBI agents on site are killed instantly.

Back in Washington DC, Jamie Foxx - playing Special Agent Ron Fleury - wants to take a team over, which is a problem.

There are political issues at play, mostly because it has been established that Saudi Arabia supplies all our oil - and no one wants the taps to go dry.


Yes, this could have been handled better by director Peter Berg.

Foxx gets his wish, though, taking a team over that consists of Chris Cooper (awesome as a nutty bomb technician), Jennifer Gardner as Janet Mayes (a forensic examiner) and Jason Bateman as the wiseass intelligence officer that doesn't like field work. 

All of these actors are at the top of their game. In a previous post I blamed Jamie Foxx for ruining Miami Vice. That may have been a little harsh, but he makes up for it in this flick.

Doesn't matter, because when the team arrives in the Middle East they are greeted by their babysitter - the irritable Colonel Faris Al-Ghazi, of the Saudi State Police. Al-Ghazi is played by Ashraf Barhom....a native Galilean that absolutely steals every scene he's in.

Ashraf Barhom

Back up for a moment, though. I think, that putting all of the political ramifications aside, this is where The Kingdom starts to get interesting.

Remember what I said about the novelist Burdett and his twist on things?

Let's say - God forbid - a bomb goes off in the middle of a softball game here in the states. 

Your average FBI investigator here in the states would never face the uphill battle this team does in Saudi Arabia. 

They are given five days. Jennifer Gardner can't do autopsies. They aren't allowed to work at night, and are kept in locked gym. 

They aren't allowed out of the compound. 

They aren't allowed to ask questions. 

The Saudi government doesn't look at the FBI team as law enforcement, but rather advisers. 

The list goes on and on.

Nevertheless, Foxx and his team slowly win over Barhom, and begin to unravel how the bomb was delivered and who might be behind the whole affair. 

It also comes as no surprise that the team is deterred by the state department - represented by an uber-slimy Jeremy Piven.

This is where I stop telling you the plot. Just watch this film for yourself, and decide how you feel about it. 

At the very least, The Kingdom is not a waste of time, and you may even learn a few things. I certainly did.

Okay, the bad...

Peter Berg, as usual, is not subtle about shoving the point he wants to make down your throat. In this case, it seems to be how some extremists in the Middle East feel about Americans.

Secondly, the action is wonderful - for an action film. The Kingdom did not start out as an action film, yet it turns into one. Unfortunately, that action is distinctly over-the-top Hollywood crap.

I don't have a problem with the cars blowing up on the highway. That was okay. I have a problem with nearly everything that happens after Jason Bateman is kidnapped. 

The whole mess turns into an unrealistic free-for-all....complete with multiple RPGs, and a fuckton of AK-47s.

Is it exciting? In a word....yes.

Does the last twenty minutes fit the rest of the movie? And I think that may have been the biggest mistake Peter Berg makes with The Kingdom

This movie doesn't know what it wants to be.

Overall, I was impressed - even though the subject matter is dealt with a bit of ham-handedness. As a flick to sit down and enjoy with your loved could do a hell of a lot worse.

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