The Kingdom (2007)

(In theaters, September 2007) I like political thrillers and I love action movies, so imagine my anticipation at a movie that promised a mixture of both. The Kingdom certainly gets cracking early with a dynamite opening credit sequence that lays out decades’ worth of American/Saudi history in eye-catching infographics. Then it’s down to the nitty-gritty of a mass-murder investigation as a small team of FBI operatives is sent to Saudi Arabia to investigate an act of terrorism in a Western enclave. Jamie Foxx easily takes control of the film, but he’s ably supported by good performances from Jennifer Gardner, Ashraf Barhom and Chris Cooper. As a procedural, it’s a bit dull and linear, but the strangeness of the Saudi environment is enough to keep everything interesting as police work takes a back-seat to politics and cultural differences. It’s an easy sip of a film, one that never requires any prodding to go from one scene to another. Then the last half hour kicks in, and from that point on The Kingdom shifts gears to become one continuous thirty-minutes-long slam-bang action film that rolls from car crashes to shootout to car chase to more shootouts to hand-to-hand combat. It’s exhilarating, well-shot and does a lot to reconcile the film’s geopolitical goals with its willingness to entertain a crowd. What’s missing, unfortunately, is a willingness to go beyond a certain level and truly start scratching at the uncomfortable reality set up in the film’s opening minutes: The Kingdom, as enjoyable as it can be, only skims the surface of what could have been possible with those elements, and smothers its epilogue in an abrupt flood of cheaply-bought sentiment. Too bad. Too damn bad, because for a few moments, this could have been an equal to Syriana with even more kick-ass explosions.

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