“The Kingdom” is yet another political thriller set in the Middle East, deter- mined to convince audiences that we are all the same beneath our differences, so why can’t we all just get along? Even the title suggests a melding of philosophies, the Christian Kingdom of God with the Muslim Kingdom of Allah set in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Like last year’s “Munich,” “The Kingdom” begins by implying that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. The film opens with the juxtaposition of “Career Day” in two different countries. Jamie Foxx is an FBI agent sharing a cozy moment in the classroom with his 6-year-old son; meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, a terrorist is cozily initiating his son into the glorious carnage of massacring infidel parents and children enjoying a Little League game in the American compound at Riyadh. The film ends with a similar cross-cultural juxtaposition, but this time it is meant to chill us with the ominous realization that we will never get along, largely because we are so much alike. Nasty humans.
As Foxx and his team (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman) travel to Riyadh to investigate the crime, he befriends the Saudi cop (Ashraf Barhom) who is assigned to be their escort and bodyguard. Of course the two fight and then bond during the investigation, learning that they have more in common than in contrast. After all, they are both fathers, aren’t they? And they both care about their team members, right? We see the Saudi family kneeling together in prayer, and we walk through a Saudi video arcade where young boys are cheerfully gunning down virtual combatants. Just like home!
The final battle scene is gripping, with enough exploding cars, blasting guns, and crunching body parts to satisfy most thrill seekers. But it takes a long time to get there. Along the way we endure shaky handheld camera work, murky plot development, and mumbled dialogue, making it difficult at times to follow the story.
Foxx puts in a good performance channeling Denzel Washington’s terse style – he even nods “okay” under his breath a few times. But Jennifer Garner’s character is a little too girly for an FBI agent today, Jason Bateman’s wise- cracking is almost stereotypical, and Chris Cooper, one of my favorite actors, is wearing way too much makeup. It’s a good movie for a rainy day with nothing to do after football season ends, but not a great movie. I would probably offer to go out for snacks.