Special to The History Place
Hours after news of a terrorist attack on the Western residential
compound in Riyadh reaches FBI headquarters, Special Agent Ronald Fleury
(Jamie Foxx) whispers something in Forensic Specialist Janet Mayes (Jennifer
Garner's) ear. She immediately stops crying. Fleury and Mayes lost a
special friend in the attack, which is modeled on the real life incident
of May 12, 2003.
Fleury leads a Bureau team into Saudi Arabia to show them how it's
done American-style. Unfortunately for the FBI agents, their Saudi counterparts
are less than impressed or even welcoming. Only after Fleury persuades
one of the Kingdom's 5,000 princes that he and Saudi Colonel Faris Al-Ghazi
(Ashraf Barhom) are the team to bring the bombers to justice, does the
investigation finally grow legs. Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman play
the two additional FBI agents who, together with Riyadh's finest, unravel
the web. As they work their way toward the spider in its center, the
action becomes intense.
Although inspired by real events, The Kingdom is really an
action, adventure, buddy film. Fleury and Al-Ghazi grow close in the
heat of battle, providing the film's few lighter and warmer moments.
Both are family men with young sons, a similarity that spans racial
and cultural gaps. Their shared dedication and incorruptibility build
additional bridges, making their collaboration possible and their friendship
As this review goes to press it remains to be seen how big a box office
hit The Kingdom will be. Crowds in the Philadelphia area during
its opening weekend were encouraging. If the film does break through
the glass ceiling of political realism that held down audience size
for films reviewed in this space with similar themes such as Munich,
World Trade Center, United 93 and Syriana--thanks
will be due to the chemistry between Foxx and Barhom and the quick-cut
action sequences that keep viewers on their seat edges.
Additionally, fans of TV cop series focusing on forensic science,
of which there have been several popular ones in recent years, will
be fascinated by the details of a crime investigation occurring, as
characterized by the film's writer Matthew Michael Carnahan, "on
Mars." Chris Cooper's character leads the Saudi team slogging through
the muck and debris of the bomb crater to determine what sort of vehicle
transported the deadly package into the compound. Jennifer Garner's
character handles the wet work: retrieving the trivial items that killed
most of the corpses. These include children's jacks and marbles, items
which later are highly significant to the crime's solution.
The artifacts of orthodox Muslim culture are a constant irritant to
the agents. For instance, Garner's Janet Mayes cannot touch the dead
bodies of Muslim men. In fact, even some American survivors are less
than cooperative at first. "We should have gotten out of here long
ago," says a grieving widower, before slamming the door in Foxx's
face. This is yet another reminder of the point made by the film's opening
titles, which provide a pocket history of the rise of the House of Saud
and its Kingdom. Those titles end with the admonition that Saudi Arabia
is the world's largest oil producer and America is the world's largest
oil consumer. We are locked in a deadly dance. Neither partner cares
much for the other's values, culture, or way of life.
Only as the FBI team and the Colonel's men work together does their
shared professionalism surmount these differences. But beneath the level
of the two leaders, no love is ever lost between the two sides. As the
investigation chews its way up the terrorist food chain, low-level fanatics
frequently accuse their Saudi police adversaries of treachery, betrayal
and heresy. The insults hit home.
In the end, the battered survivors of the FBI expeditionary force
debrief back home at the Bureau's HQ. Harking back to the beginning,
one of them asks Fleury what he said to Mayes to make her stop crying.
"I told her we'd kill them all," replies Foxx's character.
The scene shifts to Saudi Arabia. The grandson of a top terrorist
is asked by his mother, "What did your grandfather whisper in your
ear before he died?" Replies the boy, "He told me not to worry.
We'll kill them all."
There all resemblance to the classic Hollywood "buddy film"
grinds to a screeching halt. Welcome back, director Peter Berg seems
to say, to the real post-9/11 world. And that's how the audience leaves
Rated R for violence and language.