Friday, November 16, 2007

The Kingdom

Sister, Do We Look Like We Packed Kotex?

The Kingdom here refers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the world's #1 producer of oil, a commodity that almost every country depend on in fueling their economy. While there are whispers about the Kingdom's role in today's security climate, it itself is not immune to the violance that extremists dish out (the Riyadh Bombings), and here's where scribe Matthew Michael Carnahan adapts from, and makes it the key catalyst in having an action adventure set in the oil rich sultanate. While his Lions for Lambs was mainly a talkie picture painting his current perspective of the war on terror from and on US soil, here he crafts a companion piece for those lusting for action.

There are a number of hits, and expected misses to some though, and you can expect to be fairly clear where those misses are. For example, one will certainly frown at the USofA being yet again trumpeting their expertise and imposing their will on cultures vastly different, or worse, frowning upon the need to go in with guns ablazing, although granted, they didn't shoot first. Some might also want to find fault with the number of cliches commonly found in cop dramas, with policemen from the two countries finding themselves in a clash of culture from the lack of understanding, to finding common ground and similarities through, what else, American pop culture. But of course it is almost without a doubt which culture is slowly influencing which, and there's some really well placed irony with cyclic violent attitudes each side has for the other.

And this is one violent film, not that I'm wincing from it. It tries to be as realistic as possible in the deadly deeds of the terrorists, and that includes random drive by shootings, suicide bombers, vehicle bombs, kidnappings, beheadings, you name it, The Kingdom covers it all, showcasing the common modus operandi terrorist group adopt in their violent agenda, all performed with meticulous planning. I've no doubt if this picture is given the 3D treatment just as Beowulf was, you'd find yourself knee deep in a perpetual war zone, and ducking at your seat each time some explosion happens in your face.

Which brings me to the one of the plus points of The Kingdom. While not being an advocate of violence, sometimes you have to dish out eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth when you run out of options, especially when dealing with adversary who don't negotiate and only answer to the law of the gun. And The Kingdom really gets down to the quick and dirty when it calls for killing with extreme prejudice, some scenes which you will do a double take at with its realism. I recall Heat having an excellent urban shootout, and the one in The Kingdom could give it a run for its money.

But there is no doubt some repetitive action sequence of non-stop shooting in the veins of Black Hawk Down (remember those pesky RPGs?) does make it seem a little lazy, especially when you have masked up goons taking potshots from every conceivable street corner, that it becomes too much like a video game. Those who find no peace with the "unsteadicam", will naturally hate the way the movie is filmed, with the constantly shaking camera that, coupled with the rapid fire pace of editing, will induce some nauseating feeling to those with low tolerance to bouncing cameras. But I thought that the narrative justified the use of this technique though, with the characters constantly peering over their shoulders, being in hostile territory without knowing who to trust your life with, and without doubt, a now frequently adopted technique for filming "realisitc" action, whether you like it or not.

Jamie Foxx has cut his teeth with (para)military roles before in movies like Stealth and Jarhead, and here, he revisits Saudi Arabia as FBI special agent Ronald Fluery, who has assembled his own renegade team of agents to investigate into the suicide bombing and killings of American citizens living within a safe protected zone. We have Chris Cooper's (again a return to The Kingdom from his Jarhead days) bomb expert Grant Sykes who's stuck deep in mud, Jason Bateman as IT specialist Adam Leavitt, and the token female around to present challenges to customs and tradition, Jennifer Garner's forensic specialist Janet Mayes. Naturally in the hunt for those responsible for the attacks, they go up against protocol and culture, in the form of their host Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom, who himself played a terrorist in Paradise Now). But the movie does cast some sympathetic light on Faris, and in a broad stroke, the Saudi Arabians as well, being caught in a situation that they'd prefer not to be in if given a choice.

So while it's Follow the Law for some, it's time for the Americans to break certain taboos and persuade their new friends through respect, to allow them to go all the way in their investigations, with a trade off for teaching them a thing or two in Crime Scene Investigations. There are moments where Royalty is shown to be slightly inept though, with interest only to shore up good press and publicity for themselves, and the feud between the police and the National Guard, at first being ramped up, then totally forgotten when it comes to the crunch - yep, the conveniently forgotten backup firepower to call upon. But you can't deny some scenes which stick to the back of your head, like armoured SUVs cruising the highways at top speed, with an Apache shadowing overhead.

At certain points, the narrative lapses into teasing the possibilities of expanding the movie into a commentary on the politicking back home on US soil, with agencies at loggerheads with one another, ultimately not getting things done when at a stalemate (hence needing mavericks to have a go at it). It seemed to want to suggest that action should be taken promptly without dragging one's feet to suck up to politicians, but the screentime didn't allow for anything other than a cursory mention at such themes.

But the first few minutes more than won me over. Yes, having an opening that arrests my attention more than does it for me, with its slick documentary feel and animation which provided a quick history of The Kingdom, from the time of its founding to the current climate, and that alone, is well worth the ticket price, every penny of it.

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