The Kingdom is a film that could be a political hot potato as it looks at a very real terrorist incident on Saudi Arabian soil against U.S. personnel and their families and the FBI pushing the Saudi officials to allow them into their country to investigate the attack and hunt down those behind it.
However the film manages to steer away from the politics and at no point does it compromise its intensity and message. It does touch on some very difficult issues and it doesn't pull any punches whatsoever in its reality, and it does a good job of apportioning blame.
The Kingdom is a superb film and shines from all angles, those from both in front of, and behind, the camera.
The opening credits give you a feel for the film, it's slick, stylish, everything is on the move, and there's going to be a lot to take in. Not only that but the credit sequence is a lesson in history of Saudi Arabia and the relationship with America, and to boot it looks fantastic too. I can't remember what the awards are for title sequences, but this is sure contender.
The titles end with a tense and quite uncomfortable few shots which put you on a slight edge before the film starts, but from there the film does a great job of disarming you and putting you back at ease, however that's not for long.
Just when you're disarmed enough and relaxed in your seat, the first shocking scene of reality hits, and it hits hard.
Something you'll notice about the action throughout this film is that it's amazingly real, every aspect of it. Bullets are real, they cause real damage, and they come through the corners of walls. Explosions are powerful, quick and deadly, and there aren't great huge fireballs reaching up to the sky filmed from every angle. People get shot and there are explosions of blood and gore, albeit brief, there isn't anything that is stylised for the camera.
The action sequences are incredibly powerful and intense, superbly choreographed and filmed, and the level of realism in every aspect of the film is very high, capturing the confusion of battle as well as the real horror of a terrorist attack.
You do get the feeling that this is the way it really would be, and indeed is. Coupled with the documentary feel of the camera - and note that the shaky-cam isn't in the realm of Bourne - you do find that you really do believe in the events and therefore you are drawn in more to the story and the characters.
Jamie Foxx plays the head of the FBI team who are investigating the bombing, for which most of the film focuses, and he gives a great performance. He's never overpowering from the other characters and they all get their fair share of screen time, and quality time it is too.
Foxx does make you believe what he's feeling, from the connection with his son through to the frustration at the Saudi's for not letting his team have access to what they need. He's a great actor, and in this film I was totally taken in by his restrained and real performance.
Thankfully though he doesn't eat up screen time and we get to see Chris Cooper giving another incredibly natural performance. He's great as the FBI bomb tech, and when he finally gets his moment to explore the bomb crater, he really does take it over.
I heard that there was a lot of improvisation on set, but I never really felt that there was as I watched the film, it just all seemed as real as the rest of the film.
Jennifer Garner does provide most of the emotional outlet for the film, being the only female character in the team. A couple of moments she's in tears or using that wonderfully sympathetic face of hers to show the pain and anguish that she, and the team, are feeling.
However what I am glad of is that they didn't latch onto the standard clichés, and that's something that is true for the entirety of the film. There are plenty of opportunities to pile on the emotional baggage, but the film-makers do manage to steer clear of it. A glance at a child's bloody toy on the ground in the aftermath of the explosion, a State Department official holding onto a child's cap amidst the carnage, and the visiting of children who had lost their parents in battle.
Yes, there were plenty of opportunities to pile on the emotion and make you feel sad and sympathetic for characters in the standard way, but again the film sticks to its guns and keeps the reality in play. The emotion is hit at, but in context of the story, with reality, and never just to manipulate the audience.
Back to the talent though, and Garner's character is strong despite being the emotional outlet. She's never seen to be lacking in her role, and she really does get into the thick of it and fight alongside her team. In fact she gets a couple of scenes to really show off how strong she is.
Although not a part of the team in the first half of the film, Ashraf Barhom plays the Saudi Colonel Faris Al Ghazi very well, and the growing connection between he and the other members of the team, in particular Foxx's character Fleury, is made in such few scenes but made well none the less.
Jason Bateman is the final team member, and the one who is captured by the terrorists - no spoiler there, it's all through the trailers. I'm not sure what to make of his performance, he was as natural and real as the others, but there was something about his character that had him bordering on a line between likeable and annoying.
Of course when he is kidnapped, and the personal stakes are raised for the characters, you suddenly see a different side of him altogether, and he genuinely portrays fear in a very believable way. What is also great about the writing, direction and his performance, is that he's clearly affected by events through the film, and his personality changes as it goes on.
Going back to the kidnapping scene though, and the latter half of the film, the tension is ramped up again and again, and it was clear to see in the audience around me - now that doesn't happen that often in audiences I've seen, so there's a lot of credit to go to the film for that.
I could see people shifting nervously and breathing out during some of these sequences because of the intensity of the battles and the chase for the kidnappers. These are incredibly powerful scenes, from the moment the convoy is attacked right through to the concluding moments of the chase.
These scenes of the setting up to film the execution are the most tense of the film, with all the chase sequences going on around it, and sequences that aren't always that fast paced, you find that you are on the edge of your seat and at the height of your unease.
That's an unease that is really hit just right by a number of things, the script, the filming, the editing, Bateman's performance, and above all taking it beyond the point of expectation. Peter Berg pulls out this scene perfectly so that you go past the point of normal Hollywood tension sequences and you end up really not sure which way this is going to end up, and I mean genuinely. To the point where whatever happens you'd be surprised at the outcome, and we were.
For all the praise I'm heaping on the film there are a couple of moments I wasn't entirely convinced worked, however I should point out that these are niggles more than faults, and the film was superb even with them.
The ending was perhaps the largest niggle I had, I could see what it was trying to do, in fact that was very clear, but the way it did it really didn't pack the emotional punch I thought it would. I found myself nodding in a agreement and understanding, but I would have preferred a moment of realisation or a smack in the face (not literally!). Yet, the ending does work and has a very strong message to tell.
Another moment was when Foxx's character begins to piece together the ambush that is about to happen. Now I realise that trying to film something that would happen so quickly and would be more of a process of instinct than anything else would be hard, but there are a few moments when I thought he would speak out.
He's playing a well respected FBI Agent, and he's picking out four or five visual clues that make him think they are about to be attacked, and he looks at them all, sometimes a couple of times, and then decides to speak out. I would have thought he would have spoken out earlier, as they had all been so keen to do in the car in other scenes, and voiced his concerns as he saw the clues.
That said I realise that in reality this would have taken a few seconds and there's no way to effectively show that time frame on screen and the audience still see what the clues were. Again, a tiny niggle.
Looking back on them as I wrote them, they really are tiny niggles. This film is a superb thriller, and I want to see more from Peter Berg and Matthew Michael Carnahan - what a talented family he has! - especially in this genre.
The characters are built up well, and the audience connected to them and the story so that the latter half really does carry an emotional weight to it, as well as piling on the tension.
It also does a great job of disarming your beliefs about the stereotypes, and makes it very clear that there are good and bad in all societies, as well as an underlying hatred, anger and misunderstanding that needs to be breached, sure one is more extreme than the other, but it is still there.
The imagery in the film is stunning, apart from some key scenes such as the terrorist attack, the bomb site, the convoy attack and the helicopter shadowing the convoy through the city, you really do believe that you are in a Middle Eastern country throughout.
One of the biggest factors of this film is the reality, from story to filming, it is kept high throughout along with the tension. Add in some superb sequences of the terrorist attacks and the gun battles, and a strong script with good characters, and The Kingdom makes for an excellent thriller.