The Kingdom **1/2
Directed by Peter Berg
Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan
Jamie Foxx as Ronald Fleury
Chris Cooper as Grant Sykes
Jennifer Garner as Janet Mayes
Jason Bateman as Adam Leavitt
Ashraf Barhom as Colonel Faris Al Ghazi
Ali Suliman as Sergeant Haytham
Jeremy Piven as Damon Schmidt
Frances Fisher as Elaine Flowers
Danny Huston as Gideon Young
110 Minutes(Rated R for intense sequences of graphic brutal violence, and for language. )
"The Kingdom' is a mainstream Hollywood film, with a massive cast-Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jamie Foxx, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Piven, Danny Huston, and Richard Jenkins as the big guns-that feels that it is a piece of more importance than it actually is. The script is really a police procedure films-a story about a few agents trying to track down the bad guys. And it works on that level. And then at times it tries to go into the level of "political messages," and the final two lines of the movie throw such a forced message down our throats that it almost killed the whole thing. In addition, director Peter Berg-whose last movies "Friday Night Lights" was not at the top of my Best of 2004 list-thinks that his directing job will earn him some kind of awards acclaim, and he decides to try to "grit" the experience, by moving the camera constantly-even if it is just ever so slowly. Both of these things-the camera work and the ego-take away strongly from what could have been a well done thriller, if it just ended up with what its strengths were.
Foxx, Cooper, Garner, and Bateman play three special FBI agents (Ronald Fleury, Grant Sykes, Janet Mayes, and Adam Leavitt, in that order) that end up going to Saudi Arabia after an explosion and attack during a softball game left several dead-a few agents as well, including the one that taught Janet how to be a successful agent. They end up being assigned to the case, and travel to Saudi Arabia to find the men or man that orchestrated the attack.
That is basically the only amount of plot here without revealing any twists, because they end up meeting people there, investigating the case, and being double crossed, all of that fun stuff. And as a police film it manages to work at times. It's when Berg gets ahead of himself and seems to emit the idea that he is making the political intrigue film of the year, when other thrillers like "Rendition" are certainly getting higher accolades. Berg doesn't seem to want to stop moving the camera, an effect that is obviously attempting to make the film more intense and more like the viewer is the observer, instead of letting the dialogue and the performances work for themselves. At times its really hard to determine what is happening on the screen. The ending is basically a message-one of those "we can be just as bad as them" things, which is not a message that we haven't seen before, and certainly will be seen again.
Some of the acting is quite good. Garner is at her usual-that tough girl atmosphere-for once her turn in a romance film "13 Going on 30" was out of character. Chris Cooper is never bad at all, even here where he seems like he is coasting his way through-he never really seems to have a character, but he manages to be charismatic anyway. Jamie Foxx is going lower and lower on my "Good Actors" list-after "Ray" he managed to bomb in "Stealth," "Miami Vice," and his work in "The Kingdom" is nothing special-he seems to be confined to a single facial expression-a look of seriousness and intent-all the time. Bateman is decent-his usual smart mouth self-and it was fun to see Jenkins and Huston-two fine character actors that float in and out of movies all the time. The whole movie just reeked of the word "mediocre," and if it was a mediocre film that knew it was nothing special and just a way to spend some time, that might have been alright-but Berg works as if the material is the Holy Grail, and the movie is just filled with so much self-importance that it's hard to recommend.