Following on from the recent 'A Mighty Heart', 'The Kingdom' is the latest in a new batch of films about the US, Iraq, Afghanistan and terrorism hitting our screens in the coming months. But whereas 'A Mighty Heart' was a human drama, 'The Kingdom' is a shoot-em-up - albeit one that tries to make political points and be 'CSI: In the Desert' simultaneously. What's most disappointing is the fact that you can see in the script that it had the potential to be so much more.
When American oil workers are massacred in a gun and bomb attack in their compound in Riyadh, the US authorities stick to the line that the investigation must be handled by the Kingdom's intelligence services. That however doesn't sit well with Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Foxx), a counter-terrorism expert who has lost colleagues in the attack.
Pulling political strings, Fleury manages to get himself and his team - forensics specialist Janet Mayes (Garner), demolitions expert Grant Sykes (Cooper) and intelligence specialist Adam Leavitt (Bateman) - assigned to Saudi Arabia as a back-up team. Shepherded everywhere by army colonel Faris Al-Ghazi (Barhom), it seems that they are just there for cosmetic purposes. But Fleury isn't going to take no for an answer.
'The Kingdom' is the latest film from Peter Berg, a director whose unusual CV includes a superior black comedy ('Very Bad Things'), a dire buddy movie ('Welcome to the Jungle') and one of the best sports films of recent years, 'Friday Night Lights'. Given the latter's gritty feel and downbeat tone, seeing what Berg would do with this story was an interesting prospect. But ultimately there's more wrong with this film than right.
Beginning with an effective whizz through the history of Saudi Arabia and the American appetite for oil, 'The Kingdom' is one of those studio films that's in a real hurry to get where it's going and suffers because of it. Despite the presence of two Oscar winners, the characterisation here is very poor: Foxx doesn't get enough to do; Garner is mostly there as window dressing and the talents of Cooper and Bateman are reduced to one-liners.
So, with the audience prevented from forming deep bonds with the characters, 'The Kingdom' has its work cut out and things are further complicated by a script which ignores the two most interesting parts of the story. As the sole female member of the team, you wonder why the writers didn't make Garner's character the commanding officer who has to take a back seat on arrival in Saudi Arabia, leading to tensions with Foxx's character. Worse still is the fact that the most challenging onscreen relationship, between Foxx's Fleury and Barhom's Al-Ghazi, (the best performance here by a long way) isn't developed properly.
With such brush strokes on offer throughout it's not too much of a surprise that the film feels like it's missing an entire act, going from an intriguing opening to an all-too-fast middle and then cramming in the ending long before it was necessary. Just when you think 'The Kingdom' is going to offer up intriguing twists along comes an almighty crash-bang-wallop finale, leaving you wondering if there's a reel sitting on some baggage carousel in an airport. Admittedly, it's a great action sequence and Berg does raise some good points, but for this film to have the impact it could have had, there needed to be a subtler approach and deeper characters.