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Pretty Bad: 14.63%
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5 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Kingdom, The
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by Eugene Novikov

"Better when the guns are put away."
3 stars

If it's true, as they say, that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then Peter Berg's THE KINGDOM needs to be kept away from the American populace. Like Syriana, probably its closest cousin, The Kingdom tries to put Middle-East strife into a more personal context; but unlike that film, which seemed content to regard the situation and shake its head ruefully, The Kingdom first strives to educate, then to draw conclusions. Sadly, those conclusions are, for the most part, facile and thoughtless, the sorts of statements that needlessly fan the flames of conservative anger in reactionary blogs the world over. They're driven home by a hideously contrived final stunt that borders on insulting, casting a pall over an otherwise fine, albeit uneven, thriller.

What's strange is that the movie actually works best as a geopolitical procedural, like a Tom Clancy novel except high-brow and ultra-timely. To that end, the stylized mini-documentary that opens the film -- a blazing 3-minute primer on US-Middle East relations -- is actually exciting: here's a movie, I thought, that knows how to stylize current events without cheapening them. And when one considers how much easier it would have been to simply stick in a long title scroll, the extra effort creates a massive amount of good will.

The good will held for quite a while, as The Kingdom engaged in a surprisingly nuanced exploration of the sincere desire held by many in this country to make the US the good guy around the globe -- the white knight superpower. The neoconservative movement has of course exploited this impulse and turned it into something else entirely -- a fixation that resembles a new and perverse manifest destiny -- but the film is concerned with folks whose interventionist instincts are rooted in justice and compassion rather than cynicism and lust for power. "A lot of bad people out there," Agent Ronald Fluery (Jamie Foxx) is ruefully informed by his young son upon telling him that he needs to jaunt to Saudi Arabia to investigate a crime (actually a brutal suicide bombing), and this -- protecting the good guys from the bad -- so clearly Fleury's sole motivation that it's kind of touching.

The film is fascinating in the way it chronicles both the different forms this drive takes, and its collision with political realities in the Middle East and at home. The intrepid FBI agents are ultimately permitted on Saudi soil as a PR move -- they're locked in a high school gymnasium and essentially babysat, their escort told to keep them out of harm's way come whatever -- and must fight tooth and nail to make any substantive progress, which they finally manage only after Fluery plays diplomat to a Saudi prince. The attention to detail creates real urgency here, and the character work is quick and snappy without being reductive -- Jennifer Garner's weepy forensic expert manages not to grate, perhaps because we're convinced that she is in fact very good at her job, and the bit with Jason Bateman reading "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran" is classic.

Then, in a wild miscalculation, Berg and his screenwriters transform The Kingdom into a violent action film, "kinetic" in that Bergian way -- he is like a saner Tony Scott -- and pretty much completely flat. This turnabout seems to stem from the mistaken impression that the nitty-gritty of the terrorist plot -- who exactly did what and why, and will he/she/they be brought to justice -- is the most (or even an) interesting part of the film and thus deserves an elaborate resolution with numerous explosions. This is not so. In reducing the many conflicts here to a generic action climax, the movie does what I thought it would refuse to do: cheapen its real-world context.

After this, the final scene -- a contrived juxtaposition that turns The Kingdom into a Message Movie -- seems particularly egregious. It's a failure anyhow, dumping the tricky character work and political commentary for something easy, clear-cut, and wrong, wrong, wrong, but it's downright galling following the ultra-violet set piece that basically feeds the urges that the last moments so vigorously condemn. It's a dumb ending to what I still think is a smart film that's so much stronger when it observes than when it editorializes.

(Reprinted from

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originally posted: 09/28/07 13:38:30
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User Comments

10/23/08 Dan Terrific movie with some very strong themes. Great action and direction. 5 stars
9/26/08 Shaun Wallner Intense Action!! 5 stars
2/21/08 Matt Nicely constructed, fiction perhaps but still informative. The ending doesn't bother me. 4 stars
1/22/08 ben dover fantastic die you muslim mother fuckers 5 stars
1/15/08 Simon Really solid all-around. The heaviness of the final message threw me for a loop though 4 stars
12/31/07 Monday Morning Never a dull moment. Interesting and exciting. 5 stars
12/24/07 action movie fan good buildup to great shootout that rivals heat and dillinger-super action, good diolouge 5 stars
10/18/07 Vince Chan Good, plausible story, not overly bloody, just enough action 5 stars
10/06/07 jcjs poor critics can't sit back, unwind, receive entertainment as such not as truth or a lesson 5 stars
10/02/07 Obi Wan Wow..the movie moved along steady..but the 3rd Act was heart pounding and thrilling!! 5 stars
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  28-Sep-2007 (R)
  DVD: 23-Dec-2007



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