Political thriller-turned-actioner The Kingdom wants to do two things: make a statement about American foreign policy in the wake of 9/11 and ensure audiences get a dose of gung-ho anti-terrorist action. The result? A laboured investigation into a Saudi Arabian terrorist bombing which seems to be teeing up an incisive assessment of the USA’s desire to be at the forefront of international issues but morphs into a mindless bombs and guns finale. This puerile approach to making people think about issues arising from the Middle East wants to enforce America’s lofty ambitions of being an effective global peacemaker, but distracts from the real issues blighting its War on Terror. I felt sorry for all involved.
The Kingdom opens with a stylish credits sequence explaining the history of the oil-dependent relationship between America and Saudi Arabia. It shows a need for the USA to maintain an interest in the country due to its high demand for oil. Cut to present day and a terrorist bomb detonates inside a Western housing compound in Riyadh, creating an international incident America wants to keep a close eye on. With sensitive diplomatic issues at stake, the FBI struggles to find a way into the investigation. However, Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) quickly assembles an elite team (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman) when he strikes up a five-day deal to go to Riyadh and assist the Saudis, partly because his fiend was killed in the bombing. They arrive to find restrictions placed on what they can and can’t do, but Fleury gains the trust of a Saudi Arabian police officer, Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum), who will enable them to isolate the man responsible for the blast and give Fleury the chance to bring him to justice.
Crass, boneheaded and very boring.
Quite what The Kingdom is hoping to achieve is lost in a dull hour of Foxx and company being herded around by the Saudi police force, speaking to people who have no firm details about the incident or being restricted from accessing the crime scene properly. The suggestion that they are seen as interfering is established quickly, but dragged on for far too long. As a fictional story, director Peter Berg needed to inject some human interest into proceedings, instead he limply gives us a series of samey complaints from Foxx about how “bullshit” the whole trip is turning out. The endless speculation about the bombings only shifts into gear in the last 20 minutes when The Kingdom suddenly changes into a no-brains actioner including a hostage situation, race-against-time storming of a building and a “not all it seems” conclusion. It’s as though no one had any idea how to resolve the real-world issues being raised so as long as a few American soldiers overcame the terrorists using brute force, the theory is everyone will go home happy. Well, it doesn’t work like that.
The Kingdom would have been better off condensed into an hour-long CSI: Saudi Arabia special — there would have been no attempt to make it anything other than a mild diversion with a link to current global relations. Instead, it tries to say the Middle East is incapable of resolving its own issues without foreign help, America is the only country capable of providing that help and it will shoot the hell out of all in its way. In doing so it comes across as crass, boneheaded and very boring. When the final shot of a Saudi Arabian boy’s angry eyes looking menacingly into the camera as though seeing his enemies comfortably sat in the auditorium fades to black, it’s clear The Kingdom hasn’t got anything new or original to say beyond stereotyping America’s enemies. It deserves no credit for that and should be accused of disguising the fact serious questions have been raised in recent years about America’s foreign policies.