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Opinion

Action packed, star studded ‘Kingdom’ tackles terrorism

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October 4, 2007

It is a common practice for Hollywood to re-write history in its own image.  Events entombed in our textbooks get new life on the silver screen, re-animated to be bigger and more extravagant. That is exactly what “The Kingdom” does. A political conflict that has, until now, been taboo for the entertainment industry is captured on film as a picturesque ideal of the Middle East where good always trumps evil.

Being a politically saturated action thriller, “The Kingdom” starts off as a mirror of modern newscasts; a terrorist bombing murders hundreds of American oil workers and their families in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Bogged down by timid politicians and fueled by revenge, FBI Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), along with his elite team of experts (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman), arrange for a secret five-day incursion into the oil kingdom to find those responsible. There, sympathetic Saudi Colonel Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum) helps the agents navigate an untrusting Saudi government and a volatile cityscape rife with enemies. 

Once the team arrives the chase begins.  Manifestly, “The Kingdom” is a crime-drama – a cat and mouse whodunit set abroad that uses the same detective tricks as every episode of “Law & Order.” But “The Kingdom” is separated from other clichéd murder mysteries in its ability to feed off an audience steeped in political conflict. Every person in the crowd has some idea of the quagmire that is the Middle East. The filmmakers rely on that to bring you closer to the situation.

The horrific acts on screen become mere shadows of atrocities shown on the news every night. While the film never comes out and speaks about the war in Iraq, it presents a parallel in which viewers can’t help but compare. And therein lies the bulk of its power.

Despite this parallelism being drawn, there is no political agenda at work. Director Peter Berg does a brilliant job in keeping politics out of a political movie. The most important thing the film does is present a view of Middle Easterners not tarnished by hate. The Saudi populace is presented as intelligent, valuing many of the same principles we do in the United States, such as honor and family. The landscape is not a collection of bloodthirsty savages but rather a civilized culture plagued by infectious radical extremists.

Where the movie does falter, however, is in its romantic vision of outmatched heroes saving the day against all odds. “The Kingdom” becomes a fantastical daydream of not half-a-million, but four U.S. troops going in and beating the bad guys, swiftly and unequivocally. I can almost hear Foxx yelling, “We are America and we always get our man!” as he blazes his way through the film’s bullet-ridden climax.

In the end, “The Kingdom” succeeds as a visceral gut punch that brilliantly feeds on a nation’s want for an end to violence. So simple yet incredibly powerful and thought provoking, it is a frantic pipe dream do-over that showcases a righteous America taking terrorism head-on and winning.

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.