By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures.
The Kingdom is like the best Tom Clancy stories, only you can understand it. I always enjoyed watching people talk about politics and special ops but it's even better when it makes sense.
Movie Review: The Kingdom
A team of FBI agents goes to Saudi Arabia to investigate a terrorist attack at the U.S. Embassy. They deal with governmental resistance and use their own surreptitious methods to follow the evidence.
Basically, it's CSI: Middle East. That deductive approach makes it easier to follow than the politics of Jack Ryan's adventures, where information is coming from all sides. It also opens with a visual timeline of the country, including its ties to 9/11, handled with class. That also helps get every audience up to speed.
It's very much a team movie, less so about individuals. Of anyone, you get the most backstory on Jamie Foxx's character, and he is the leader. He goes through back channels and keeps his son feeling safe. Jason Bateman complains funnily throughout. Jennifer Garner talks sports and sucks on lollipops as a sort of interior, brooding teammate. Chris Cooper seems to know everything.
I had a problem with Peter Berg's handheld style in Friday Night Lights but I guess after surviving Paul Greengrass, this is fine. It actually works. In a high speed driving scene, you actually feel the speed.
The style is very documentary with on camera IDs for each character, as if you're just following the standard procedure of government agencies. It's usually a cliché to say a narrative film uses documentary style but The Kingdom really feels like that, except you get to see all the stuff a doc crew would have no access to.
When the action hits, it puts you inside the explosions. It's not just pseudo point of view, it's just a few alternative shots that create the mood. Since most of the film is investigative, the bursts of action have more impact, and this movie may have Jennifer Garner's best fight scene ever. And that's compared to five years of Alias.
The Kingdom has an intelligent perspective on terrorism. It's not so heavy that it's painful to watch. It just pays respect to the issue it's dealing with so it's not silly fun. It is good entertainnment with a hint of social relevance.