Foxx & Garner go all CSI in Riyadh
I wanted to like "The Kingdom" it sounded like a good thriller featuring some of my favourite actors but sadly it left me numb. In fact it left me with more gripes than positives from the tediously slow build up through to the intentionally shaky camera action and the cringe worthy macho dialogue. It almost feels like it starts as one thing, an almost clever thriller and then sells out turning itself into a stylish action movie.
Following a terrorist bombing in an American housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, leading to many American civilians to be murdered, FBI agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx - Dreamgirls) forces the South Arabian consul to allow him a few days of investigation in the location. Along with agents Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper - The Bourne Supremacy), Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner - Catch and Release) and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman - The Break-Up) he travels to Riyadh to not only investigate the terrorist attack but also to revenge their friend who died in the bombing. With all sort of political barriers in their way stopping them from investigating, they find support in Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom) who helps them in such a hostile city where they are not welcome by anyone.
"The Kingdom" starts with an interesting potted history of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and America before it gets into the main part, or at least the first part of the story. It's quite interesting and educational as it explains certain things in a brief but informative manner. But then as I mention it gets into the first part of the movie the set up featuring the bombing campaign at the American complex in the city of Riyadh used to draw in more American personal. Although a bit laborious it works well delivering that big opening, especially in the actual action scenes.
But once the initial set up is in place it seems to lose its way as it gets all political with the FBI first response team finding political barriers in their way when it comes to entering Riyadh. It's just a bit too heavy handed as on one side you have the proud and passionate FBI response team desperate to do their job whilst the almost enemy on the other. And it doesn't help that the first of the terribly cheesy dialogue starts to encroach as we watch a young child spout "there are bad guys out there". It's cringe worthy beyond belief and is just the first of many bad dialogue moments.
Moving on and eventually into Riyadh it still feels all a little too political as there is the them and us set up with the FBI response team being baby sat by the Saudi army and police, stopping them from doing their job. It may be semi factual in this sense, highlighting the wariness of the Saudi leaders to be seen as relying on the American's but it once more feels laborious and frankly quite dull.
But of course it moves on as the FBI response team finally get to do what they do best and it becomes all CSI as they go about their detective work. This, it has to be said, is where "The Kingdom" is at it's best, genuinely interesting as they discover the facts whilst trying not to offend Muslim customs. But then it is thrown away by ending up as an action movie with all guns blazing which whilst well choreographed feels like it's selling out on what should have continued to be a clever thriller.
The thing is that whilst I didn't like how the storyline changed it was so many other things which ended up annoying me. The dialogue which I have already mentioned borders on the cringe worthy especially when during the action scenes the machismo is ramped up and you get one cheesy line of dialogue after another. And accompanying this is that it starts to become overly patriotic with a sense of here is America to save the day. Maybe that's appealing on the other side of the water, but here it ends up adding to the cheesiness.
But my biggest bug bear is the cinematography. I have grown to dislike movies which feature constant handheld camera work which are intentionally shaky, it's annoying and head ache inducing. But then so is the choppy editing which is highlighted in one scene where we watch someone talking on the phone, the shot constantly flicks between close up to far away and although designed to deliver the sense of confusion and panic it makes it painful to watch. There is a fine balance to getting this sort of camera work and editing right and for me "The Kingdom" goes too far.
As for the acting well it wasn't as great as I hoped as Jamie Foxx goes all American hero as Ronald Fleury whilst Jennifer Garner as Janet Mayes feels almost neutered by the lack of screen time. And then there are Jason Bateman and Chris Cooper who whilst not there to deliver comedy seem to be delivering most of the light hearted dialogue. It's all sort of okay and in the end in fitting with the way "The Kingdom" turns out but I expected much more.
What is though the most disappointing thing is that the storyline had great potential to be a really intense thriller but between the cinematography, editing and it veering off towards macho action it wastes the opportunity.
What this all boils down to is that "The Kingdom" isn't by any means a bad movie, but what for me is a good idea is wasted as it becomes distinctly average. There are moments within the movie which are impressive, there are some clever surprises but there is also to much cringe worthy dialogue and an unwarranted machismo which ends up ruining things as much as the intentionally shaky camera work and snappy editing.