Release Date: December 23, 2007
Rating: 3/5 /
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Piven, Danny Huston and Richard Jenkins
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan
Directed by: Peter Berg
The Kingdom is a new action thriller that follows an FBI team to Saudi Arabia to investigate a coordinated bombing attack on American workers. The basic plot structure of the film follows your typical television episode of The Unit or the cancelled series E Ring, with some echoes back to JAG and NCIS. We watch the FBI team interacting with the local Saudi police, and watch how the two investigative units grudgingly begin to trust and work with each other, until the final confrontation where the film plays out a continuous action sequence for upwards of 20 minutes. The difference here is that the television episode has been scaled up to feature film size, with bigger explosions, bigger vistas and more graphic violence than a television series budget will allow. The cast includes a mixture of feature film stars (Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper), television personalities (Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman) and some hitherto-unknown middle-eastern actors who hold up fairly well next to their Western counterparts (Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman). The only member of the cast who really sticks out is Jeremy Piven, essentially transplanting his role of “Ari” from Entourage, and it simply comes across as jarring. Otherwise, the movie works fine as a procedural, with Peter Berg keeping the camera busy in the typical moving handheld approach we have seen in many films recently. There is more than a whiff of the influence of Michael Mann here, whose Forward Pass company was involved in producing the film. The film is not an especially deep or intricate study of American or Saudi mores, but it isn’t trying to be that. Rather, it’s a simple cop buddy film transplanted to a more current environment, with a minor payoff at the very end for those looking for a little more food for thought.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3/5
The Kingdom is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that presents a lot of detail, even as the handheld images are whipping around. Flesh tones and wardrobe colors are accurate, even in a variety of environments and lighting scenarios. The inevitable CGI shots are seamless with the rest of the presentation, and the various action sequences read clearly on the screen, even when edited quickly. And, as should be expected, there is a noticeable difference in the lighting schemes used for the US and Arabian sequences, with the former showing a cooler approach and the latter obviously emphasizing the warmer tones.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3 ½/5 ½
The Kingdom is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English, French and Spanish that definitely has the punch you’ll expect from an action thriller with lots of gunfire and explosions. This is one of those mixes that helpfully reminds you what a subwoofer does. The rear channels are, as usual, primarily used for minor atmospheric sounds and music. But they do come a bit more into play with the bigger action sequences. I had some issues understanding dialogue in this film and wound up activating the subtitles, but I don’t think this was due to the sound mix. In all honesty, I found some of Jamie Foxx’s dialogue to be unintelligible until I turned on the subtitles. It may just be me, but I simply couldn’t make out what he was saying in some crucial scenes.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 3 ½/5 ½
The Kingdom comes with a full commentary by the director and almost an hour and 20 minutes of special features, all presented in anamorphic widescreen format. By the time you get through this stuff, you’ll have a pretty solid grasp on what was going on during the making of this film.
Feature Commentary with Director Peter Berg – Peter Berg talks through the film on this scene-specific commentary, relating many details about the camera work and the actors working on the film. There are silent patches as he gets caught up in watching the film, but he usually bounces back within a minute or two with more to offer. He has one good joke early on about a quick cameo in an early FBI scene which makes a lot of sense if you are already familiar with Berg. He also self-references the various documentaries that are included on the disc. Finally, at the end of the film, he reveals the original scripted ending that was not filmed. That ending, while more in line with the overall thrust of the story, would certainly not have ended the film in a satisfying manner for anyone. I won’t spoil it here – just listen to the commentary and you’ll hear what I mean.
Deleted Scenes – (11:06 total, Anamorphic) - This is actually a series of scene extensions, mostly expanding on some early expositional sequences back in the US. There is also one slight extension to part of the final confrontation in the film. There really isn’t anything necessary here – just additional bits of information that don’t really make a big difference.
Character by Character: The Apartment Shootout (13:40 total, Anamorphic) – BIG SPOILERS HERE: WATCH THE FILM BEFORE WATCHING AND READING THIS MATERIAL - Here we have the climactic shootout as recut to focus in any one of four different sets of characters during the melee. It’s an interesting approach, which makes use of much of the coverage that couldn’t be used for the final cut of the film.
Constructing the Freeway Sequence – (18:17, Anamorphic) - MORE BIG SPOILERS HERE: WATCH THE FILM BEFORE WATCHING AND READING THIS MATERIAL – This featurette focuses on the climactic freeway battle that leads to the apartment shootout, and adorns the poster and DVD cover. In fairly exhaustive detail, we watch the sequence being worked out and filmed under the hot sun of Mesa, Arizona on the various days it took to film. Piece by piece we see the various components being laid in, from the initial collisions to further explosions, to the task of strapping the principal actors into their seats, upside down, and then spinning them across the highway. (One of the actors admits to having had an unfortunate moment when he got pulled out the vehicle for the subsequent firefight.)
Creating The Kingdom (35:33 total, Anamorphic) This featurette covers pretty much everything you’d want to know about the making of this film, with input by the director, writer and cast, as well as Michael Mann. The featurette is broken up into several parts, each covering a different aspect of the shoot, from the military training undergone by the cast to the Arizona shoot to the brief shoot done in Abu Dhabi to provide the backdrop for the film.
History of The Kingdom: An Interactive Timeline – (Anamorphic) - This is a clickable timeline that allows you to look a little more in depth into the 20th and 21st century history of Saudi Arabia, the “Kingdom” of the title. (Some reviewers have mistakenly assumed that the title refers to the compound where the US oil workers live – it doesn’t. It refers to the country itself.) The information here is more detailed than the presentation we see during the opening credits, but both essentially tell the same story.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. There are further Spanish and French subtitles that are activated when you choose those language tracks. (To provide the proper language for the English signs and titles seen in the film) A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference. When the disc is initially started, the viewer is presented with an optional pair of non-anamorphic previews including White Noise 2 and the older HD-DVD promo.
IN THE END...
The Kingdom is a pretty solid police buddy action film which happens to be set in one of the world’s biggest hot spots. It would be right at home as an episode of a typical television action series, only for this film, there is a pretty considerable feature budget and scale at work. The camera work is the same jumpy handheld work we’ve been seeing of late, but the storytelling works and the film has some punch to it. If you’re a fan of The Unit, or a fan of the various cast members, this will certainly be a fun ride. And it also works for anyone just looking for a solid action thriller. I recommend renting it first.
December 29, 2007.