Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Peter Berg’s one of those guys who hasn’t made a film yet that I adore, but who seems to do solid, interesting work each time out. This one sounds interesting, and they’ve been screening it for a while now, fine-tuning it. Guess it’s time to check in and see what the latest audiences think of it:
Hello AICN Gang, I just saw a screening of The Kingdom in NYC, the political thriller directed by Peter Berg and starring Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Chris Cooper, and Jeremy Piven. It’s a good movie, but not a great one. The one issue I had with it was the pacing. After an intense opening sequence where many people are shot, killed, and ultimately blown away at a softball game in Saudi Arabia , the film slows way down. We are introduced to our main characters, FBI Agents going to investigate the bombing, but the next hour consists mainly of talking, searching for clues, interviewing witnesses, looking for suspects, and more talking. I was getting a little impatient, but the saving grace of the movie is that the last 30 minutes or so are absolutely awesome. Jason Bateman, who offers some good comic relief, gets kidnapped by terrorists and it’s up to the rest of the team to rescue him. This consists of one really nicely filmed action sequence, Peter Berg did some decent work in The Rundown, but he really raises his action-movie filmmaking abilities to a new level. We start with a car chase, which turns into a major shootout, and then moves on to brutal hand to hand combat. The film is extremely violent, the biggest reaction the movie got was when Jennifer Garner stabs one of the terrorists in the balls with a knife. Overall, I liked the movie, it is pure entertainment and does not try to make any political or social statements. If the pacing had been a bit better, and perhaps a little more exciting during the middle portion of the film, it could have been great. SHU
Here’s a more in-depth look at the current cut of the film:
What follows is a slightly spoilered review of THE KINGDOM. I managed to get into a sneak screening last night. If you use this, call me DocNoodle. Peter Berg's THE KINGDOM is an ambitious, but flawed film. I've heard that the distribution date shuffling is because Universal is seriously considering it for awards, and I hope that's not the case. Because what THE KINGDOM is is an action movie posturing as an intelligent and provocative political drama. People who thought that SYRIANA lacked storytelling focus with its myriad goals will have the opposite problem with this unimaginative movie and its severely limited perspective. I love Berg as an actor (and the fact that he goes home to Estella Warren every night means he can't be all bad), but he's got a ways to go to prove himself as a director. THE KINGDOM has a perfect beginning, with a History Channel-inspired opening credits sequence charting the origins of the eponymous kingdom, Saudi Arabia. Text pops up all over the screen explaining that Saudi Arabia was formed in 1930 and is now the leading petroleum exporter today, etc. Minimal graphics combine explanatory text, the names of the cast and crew and familiar footage from CNN to bring us up to speed on the 70s oil crisis, 9-11-01, and the current situation over there. Then, the story begins. In Riyadh, the capitol city of Saudi Arabia, a terrorist attack on the headquarters of ARAMCO, the world's largest oil corporation forces the FBI to investigate and assist the clean up. This terrorist attack is filmed brilliantly, with nerve-racking editing between the masterminds who organized it recording it for distribution and the victims scrambling to safety. I was surprised at Berg's audacity in filming such explicit images (a child on a scooter sees his father shot to death, suicide bombers quote the Koran before killing themselves). Afterwards, we're introduced to FBI bad-ass Jamie Foxx (in a cute scene involving show-and-tell at his son's school in DC). Then, in a brutal twist, a new terrorist attack at the clean up destroys the attack site and leads to untold casualties, including Foxx's FBI friends. A new team is sent to investigate the tragedy. Jamie Foxx leads Chris Cooper's grizzled bomb expert, Jennifer Garner's emotionally devastated forensics specialist (the leader of the investigation that was blown up was her mentor) and Jason Bateman's annoying wise ass to Riyadh to uncover the men responsible for the bombing. Once there, they find numerous red tape road blocks, ranging from Muslim discomfort about Garner's presence to fears about retaliation from the terrorist leader, a grotesque Osama Bin-Laden stand-in called Abu Hamza. The leader of the Riyadh military investigation, Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum) seems to personify Foxx's worst fears about the Arabian forces in his constant refusal to help. Eventually, a begrudging friendship forms between the two forces as they come to understand each other (Foxx and Barhoum are both fathers whose work alienates them from their children). At the same time, a new terror scheme is unhatching, and Foxx's agents are the targets . . . THE KINGDOM is filled with potentially engaging and worthwhile ideas, such as the divide between justice and revenge, the futility of violence as a means to end violence and America's culpability in creating the modern oil crisis. Unfortunately, all too many of these ideas collapse into gunfights and gore. I'm not suggesting that an action movie cannot be intelligent, or that a cool action movie can't be made about the tensions between America and the Middle East, but this is not that movie. It ends barely 90 minutes after it starts, leaving your head spinning as you wonder "What was the point of all that?" The plot holes range from obvious details like the classic "How did they know that they would be there?" to "How did they find all that out from five minutes of investigating" making the movie especially frustrating. Far too many scenes end without proper resolution (Foxx yells, music builds, quick cut). Jeremy Piven gets some good lines as a slimy American ambassador in Riyadh, but you really have to wonder what his 'Ari' schtick is doing in a movie about terrorism and death in the Middle East. The movie's ending quickly mutates from a creative, nail-biting chase scene in which (MAJOR SPOILER) the heroes struggle to rescue Bateman from a Islamist group planning to decapitate him on camera to a bizarre action set piece in which Jamie Foxx kills the Bin Laden caricature. Why? What was the point of creating such a silly, abrupt resolution? While I'm not at all comfortable with using a tragedy like Daniel Pearl's death as shorthand to ratchet suspense, I can understand the choice in the confines of the movie's setting. But the transformation into "big dick big gun" storytelling is so abrupt as to be nonsensical. The actors all do what they can with the material, but the only one who makes for a really convincing FBI agent is Cooper. Garner yelps when people shoot at her and worries about her eardrums being blown out by machine gun fire more than she does real investigating. Barhoum, who was phenomenal in PARADISE NOW, holds his own against Foxx, but could also be given more. We see very little footage of these guys actually investigating beyond standing around and talking at disaster sites. Also: four FBI agents get sent to Saudi Arabia, and not one speaks the language? Maybe I'm just nitpicking, but a movie like this could be so much better. It could have the suspense, action and drive backing it without falling into limited opinions that range from unimaginative to (seemingly) outright racist. Hopefully they'll take advantage of the months before the film's release to make something that could earn some notice.