Staring Into the Abyss: Surgical Squads Get Screentime

Maui Time | September 21, 2007
Staring Into the Abyss

Surgical Squads Get Screentime

The Kingdom (619 words)

By Cole Smithey

There’s a lot of bang for the buck in director Peter Berg’s juiced-up “what-if” illustration of a U.S. Special Forces rogue team responding to a massive attack on oil company employees and their kin inside the imaginary safety of a housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Top heavy on the power of personal vendetta to resolve anti-capitalist violence overseas, “The Kingdom” trades on the same lowest-common-dominator anger that turned “Rambo” into a winning franchise. Immediately after a series of carefully-timed blasts kill more than 200 people, FBI investigators Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), Grant (Chris Cooper), Janet (Jennifer Garner) and Adam (Jason Bateman) go off the reservation with a secret five-day mission to carry out a surgical take-no-prisoners investigation in Riyadh.

Put in the hands of a standoffish and ineffectual Saudi military, Fleury gradually makes friends with Colonel Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom) who unknowingly helps obtain a Royal endorsement for Fleury’s crew to go after the cell responsible for the carnage. Fleury’s and Ghazi’s not-so-meet-cute friendship mocks the script’s stream of insults lobbed at the incompetence of Saudi military and at America’s stonewalling bureaucracy. Know-it-all explosives expert Grant commands Saudi officers to drain water from the explosion’s initial crater, and learns that an ambulance was used to disguise the assault. The implication here is that Saudi investigators are far inferior to the Americans who must teach them how to conduct a proper investigation. The infuriating irony is that no such investigation was ever put in place at Ground Zero before or after Mr. Bush initiated a war with Afghanistan 18 hours after the planes hit the towers.

“The Kingdom” is a testosterone-amped big budget brother to Richard Shepard’s “The Hunting Party,” a movie that suggests that a close-knit crew is enough to bring down any criminal, even an Osama bin Laden. It’s the same school of opinion that says trained squadrons of U.S. Air Force jets could and should have performed aerial escorting maneuvers to prevent the 9/11 hijacked planes from hitting the World Trade buildings. This arena of informed thinking is an affront to the corporatized military complex, busy funding a trademarked “War on Terror” that has already bilked trillions of dollars in worthless contracts from American taxpayers. The fact that Hollywood institution Michael Mann (“The Insider”) produced “The Kingdom,” speaks volumes about the level of outside-the-box political thinking going on in Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan is no lead-by-example Zen thinker. Arabs are portrayed as lesser people. Their military is disorganized and brutal, their Prince leader is shown as an easily influenced spoiled brat and Arab civilians equate somewhere beneath American projects-housed citizens. The plot comes to rest on Fleury’s team locating an Arab with missing fingers, because “every bomb maker gets bitten by his own work.” Director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) orchestrates an action-packed chase sequence wherein resident FBI black-humorist investigator Adam (Jason Bateman) gets kidnapped before being taken to a secluded apartment to be decapitated for posterity on video tape. Although Adam’s imminent death ramps up the suspense, the contrived situation bears no resemblance to actual methodologies of Arab kidnappers who keep their victims alive in order to attract media attention before ever killing them.

A bullets-blazing climax plays as a hollow trump card before Carnahan’s tacked-on fatalist political statement that gets whispered to the audience in big bold letters. Zealotry is all around, and it’s a product that certain CEOs know how to package with impunity. How long do we have to stare into the abyss? From the message of “The Kingdom,” we’ll hit rock bottom before we get the answer.

Rated R, 110 mins. (C+)


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