Part CSI, part Syriana, part Jack Ryan story, The Kingdom is an action thriller that switches things up but still keeps you on the edge of your seat.
As with any good investigative crime thriller, The Kingdom starts off with a murder. In this case, it's a mass murder when a terrorist bomb is detonated inside a Western housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A special FBI counter-terrorist task force--Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), surveillance and intelligence; Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), explosives expert; Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), forensics specialist; and team leader Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx)--is ready to put "boots on sand" to locate the madman behind the bombing. But without support from the U.S. government, Fleury has to negotiate a secret five-day trip in Saudi Arabia on his own. When they finally get there, it isn't much better. They are met with opposition from the Saudi authorities, who are suspicious of the American interlopers and want to solve the crime on their own terms. The team knows they can't do their jobs properly if they can't get any cooperation, but luckily, they find an ally in the Saudi Colonel Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum), who helps them navigate royal politics and unlock the secrets of the crime scene. Just as they get close to the perpetrators, the action shifts and suddenly these strangers from different cultures must work together to fight a common foe.
No one seems out of place in this scenario, save maybe funnyman Bateman. His Leavitt is the reluctant participant who doesn't want to be there ("I didn't say 'I,' I said 'FBI!'") but is always ready with a wisecrack to provide some needed comic relief. Foxx plays the same kind of tough but caring character he has played in the past, so it isn't much of a stretch for the actor. Still, his scenes with Barhoum's Col. Al-Ghazi are some of the film's best, as the two like-minded characters bond over their mutual love of catching the bad guys to make the world a better place. Barhoum (Paradise Now) adds elements of warmth and humanity, showing how we are connected no matter how far away we are from each other. As the remaining two experts on the team, the always brilliant Cooper does a nice turn as the explosive guy, dissecting the massive bomb site, while Garner believably plays a forensic specialist, picking shrapnel out of bodies and looking for clues. And when it comes time to kick ass, they all follow through very well.
Actor/director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) is an edgy, frenetic filmmaker who likes to temper his action with some humor, so tackling a terrorist actioner, with wiseacres Jamie Foxx and Jason Bateman onboard, seems right up his alley. But what was fun at first proved more difficult as time went on--the Kingdom shoot was plagued with numerous setbacks, including the death of a prop master. Even with the problems, Berg seems to have persevered, delivering a taut crime thriller, which refreshingly changes pace on a frequent basis. The start of the film, told in title cards, is a history lesson on Saudi-American relations, beginning with the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s and leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. Then, when the FBI team finally gets to Saudi Arabia, the film turns into a fascinating CSI episode. But the ending is where Berg pulls out the stops and gives us the shoot-'em-up AND blow-'em-up conclusion that should get the moviegoers cheering. Of course, it feels a little tacked-on and is most certainly manipulative, but it still works.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.