14 October 2007

The Kingdom Review

It's not every day that I'm stumped by a film...and the Kingdom managed to do it for all the wrong reasons. The plot was straightforward, the camera work - though shakey - was fine, the acting solid - I just simply didn't know what to make of it.

Okay, let's get plot details out the way: Terrorist detonate two bombs in a compound full of foreign oil workers in Saudi Arabia. The first to bring in the rescue teams, the second actually targeting those rescue teams. Thing is, an FBI agent is killed in that second explosion, and thus the FBI back home go into 'revenge' mode. Afraid that that's exactly what it'll be seen as, the higher-ups nix any FBI incursion into Saudi Arabia, but of course, they go ahead and risk it anyway. This puts them on the trail of Abu Hamza, a notorious bomb-maker, terrorist and generally unpleasant bloke. However, when their convoy is attacked, and another of their number kidnapped and tortured, they have to go and get him back.

The films inherent - and most obvious - problem is that it has absolutely no idea what it wants to be. It flits from being an action/drama, to being a political thriller, to a murder/mystery and then back again. The inherent problem with an ADD-suffering movie such as this is that, inevitably, that condition is transposed onto its audience. Thusly, you'll probably only be paying attention when the speakers are spitting gunshots at your ears, and thus will be confused as to just why your ears are being berated so.

Its a problem that doesn't lie with most of the composite parts. In fact, it almost certainly stems from the fact that there are two screenwriters, who appear to have totally different agendas. Most likely - though this is merely speculation on my part - Matthew Michael Carnahan scribed it as a political thriller. Then along comes Michael Mann to...well, 'action it up', so to speak. And thusly, imbue the film with the aforementioned attention disorder.

The thing is, there are some very good things about the film. First and foremost, the core performances - when you actually notice them going on - are rather good. Of particular note is Jennifer Garner. who - above the always excellent Chris Cooper and Jamie Foxx - shines as the damaged femme fatale, who's not just in it for the patriotism. Jason Bateman - king of the memorable movie bit part - actually manages to extend his acting chops to the full 110 minutes, and he's actually rather pleasant company for the duration.

Next, the action sequences - with Mauro Fiore's camera shaking like crazy, but still somehow retaining focus - are brilliantly concieved, and pulse-poundingly executed. Of particular note is the closing portion of the movie, which ditches the politics (well, I suppose FBI agents shooting muslims is political, but whatever...) completely and gets going on the balls to the walls action. It's an almost non-stop action sequence for the final 20-or-so minutes of the film, and it's edge of your seat stuff, from the initial highway shoot-out to a terrifying and brutal three-way brawl with Garner and a hog-tied Bateman on one side, and a rather large, aggresive Saudi on the other. It almost (repeat, almost) makes up for the unfocused first and second acts.

Ultimately, though, you still walk out feeling more than a tad unsatisfied. Perhaps you wanted intrigue...perhaps you wanted some kind of anti-**** (that's, The War Against Terror, by-the-by) commentary, but whatever you wanted from it, it doesn't really deliver it. Which is unfortunate, considering this film had plenty of potential to be an enjoyable autumn time-waster. See it if you've got nothing better to do, or have already seen the Bourne Ultimatum.

Ross' Rating:

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