The Kingdom (film)
|Directed by||Peter Berg|
|Written by||Matthew Michael Carnahan|
|Music by||Danny Elfman|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
The Kingdom is a 2007 action thriller directed by Peter Berg and starring Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, and Ashraf Barhom, with Kyle Chandler, Jeremy Piven, Richard Jenkins, and Ali Suliman. The film is fictional, but was inspired by bombings at the Khobar housing complex on June 25, 1996 and the Riyadh compound on May 12, 2003 in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan has summarized the plot as, "What would a murder investigation look like on Mars?” The film was screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival as its yearly "surprise" film on August 22, 2007.
The film got a moderate response from critics. The box office returns were a modest $86.5 million, in relation to the $70 million budget.
During a softball game at an American oil company housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda terrorists set off a bomb, killing Americans and Saudis. While one team hijacks a car and shoots residents, a suicide bomber blows himself up, killing everyone near him. Sergeant Haytham (Ali Suliman) of the Saudi State Police kills several of the terrorists. The FBI Legal Attaché in Saudi Arabia, Special Agent Fran Manner (Kyle Chandler), calls his US colleague, Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), to advise him about the attack. Manner is discussing the situation with DSS Regional Security Officer Special Agent Rex Bura when an ambulance full of explosives is detonated killing Manner, Bura and many others.
At FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Fleury briefs his rapid deployment team on the attack. Although the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. State Department hinder FBI efforts to investigate the attack, Fleury blackmails the Saudi ambassador into allowing an FBI investigative team into Saudi Arabia. Fleury gathers Special Agent Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), a forensic examiner, FBI analyst Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), an intelligence analyst, and Special Agent Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), a bomb technician, go to Saudi Arabia. On arrival they are met by Colonel Faris al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), the commander of the Saudi State Police Force providing security at the compound. The investigation is being run by General Al Abdulmalik (Mahmoud Said) of the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), who does not give Fleury and his team permission to investigate.
The FBI team is invited to the palace of Saudi Prince Ahmed bin Khaled (Omar Berdouni) for a dinner. While at the palace, Fleury persuades the Prince that Colonel al-Ghazi is a natural detective and should be allowed to lead the investigation. With this change in leadership, the Americans are allowed hands-on access to the crime scene. While searching for evidence, Sergeant Haytham (Ali Suliman) and Sykes discover the second bomb was detonated in an ambulance. Fleury learns the brother of one of the dead terrorists had access to ambulances and police uniforms. Colonel al-Ghazi orders a SWAT team to raid a house, managing to kill a few heavily armed terrorists. Following the raid, the team discovers clues, including photos of the U.S. and other Western embassies in Riyadh. Soon afterward, the U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Damon Schmidt (Jeremy Piven) notifies Fleury and his team that they have been ordered to return to the United States.
On their way to King Khalid International Airport, their convoy is attacked and incapacitated. Leavitt is dragged out of the wrecked car and kidnapped by terrorists who flee while Fleury manages to wound one attacker. Al-Ghazi commandeers a civilian vehicle to chase the fourth SUV and the other car holding Leavitt into the dangerous Al-Suwaidi neighborhood of Riyadh. As they pull up, a gunman launches rocket-propelled grenades at them and a fierce firefight starts. FBI analyst Leavitt is tied up inside a complex.
While Sykes and Haytham watch the entrance to the complex, al-Ghazi, Fleury, and Mayes follow a blood trail and kill many gunmen inside. Mayes, separated from the others, finds Leavitt and his attackers, preparing an execution video for Leavitt. She kills the remaining insurgents, and al-Ghazi and the team start to leave. Fleury then realizes there is a trail of blood leading to the back of the apartment, and al-Ghazi sees the grandfather and inspects his hand. When the old man gives him his hand, al-Ghazi sees that the man is missing the same fingers as Abu Hamza al-Masri in the terrorist group's many videos and confirms his suspicion that the grandfather is the terrorist leader. Abu Hamza's teenage grandson walks out of the bedroom and shoots al-Ghazi in the neck, then he starts to point his gun at Mayes, prompting Fleury to kill him. Abu Hamza then pulls out an assault rifle and Haytham kills him. As Abu Hamza dies, another grandson hugs him and Abu Hamza whispers something into his ear to calm the child down. Al-Ghazi dies in Fleury's arms.
At al-Ghazi's house, Fleury and Haytham meet his family. Fleury tells his son that al-Ghazi was his good friend, mirroring a similar scene earlier in the movie wherein he comforted Special Agent Manner's son. Fleury and his team return to the U.S., where they are commended by FBI Director James Grace (Richard Jenkins) for their outstanding work. Leavitt asked Fleury and Mayes what he had whispered to her to calm her down. The scene cuts to Abu Hamza's daughter asking her own son what his grandfather whispered to him as he was dying. The grandson tells her mother, "Don't fear them, my child. We are going to kill them all," a similar line Fleury whispered to Mayes, implying that this is a never-ending, vicious cycle.
- Jamie Foxx as Special Agent Ronald Fleury, Team Leader
- Chris Cooper as Special Agent Grant Sykes, Bomb Technician
- Jennifer Garner as Special Agent Janet Mayes, Forensic Examiner
- Jason Bateman as Special Agent Adam Leavitt, Intelligence Analyst
- Ashraf Barhom as Colonel Faris Al-Ghazi, Saudi State Police
- Ali Suliman as Sergeant Haytham, Saudi State Police
- Jeremy Piven as Damon Schmidt, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy
- Richard Jenkins as Robert Grace, FBI Director
- Tim McGraw as Aaron Jackson
- Kyle Chandler as Special Agent Francis "Fran" Manner, Legal Attaché
- Frances Fisher as Elaine Flowers, Investigative Reporter, Washington Post
- Danny Huston as Gideon Young, US Attorney General
- Kelly AuCoin as Ellis Leach
- Anna Deavere Smith as Maricella Canavesio, Deputy National Security Advisor
- Minka Kelly as Miss Ross
- Amy Hunter as Lyla Fleury
- Omar Berdouni as Prince Ahmed bin Khaled
- Trevor St. John as Earl Ripon
- Ashley Scott as Janine Ripon
- Peter Berg as FBI Agent (uncredited)
Prior to filming, director Peter Berg spent two weeks in Saudi Arabia researching the film. Filming commenced July 10, 2006, on the west side of the old Maricopa County Courthouse in Phoenix, Arizona. Additional scenes were being filmed concurrently in Mesa, Arizona; the scenes at the American compound were shot at the Polytechnic campus of Arizona State University. In some of the trailer frames, saguaro cacti not native to Saudi Arabia are visible in the background. The scenes in the men's locker room at the beginning of the film were filmed in the men's locker room and detention area of the Gilbert Police Department. The FBI briefing scene was filmed in the media amphitheater/classroom in the same police building. The high speed driving scenes were filmed on Highway 202, which runs through Mesa and Gilbert, just prior to its opening for public use only a few miles from the ASU campus.
While shooting on location in Mesa, Berg was involved in a fatal accident that resulted in the death of another member of the production team. The SUV he was riding in collided with a John Deere Gator all-terrain vehicle driven by Nick Papac. Papac died three hours later. On August 8, 2008, Papac's parents Michael Papac and Michele Bell filed a lawsuit against the director, a driver, and the production company. The lawsuit was dropped in 2008. Filming resumed one day after the incident.
On-location filming took place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for two weeks in mid-September. Since Universal Pictures does not have an office in the Middle East, the production was facilitated by a local production firm called Filmworks, based in Dubai. Filming also took place at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi.
The film's production cost $80 million. The Kingdom was released on DVD December 20, 2007.
The film received moderate reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 51% of 180 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.8 out of 10. The site's general consensus is that "While providing several top-notch action scenes, The Kingdom ultimately collapses under the weight of formula and muddled politics." Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 0—100 reviews from film critics, has a rating score of 56 based on 37 reviews. Right-wing Weekly Standard columnist John Podhoretz called the film "perfectly paced" and "remarkably crisp and satisfying", arguing that it evokes the films The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Dog Day Afternoon, and The New Centurions. New York Times critic A.O. Scott called it "a slick, brutishly effective genre movie". He also stated that "Just as Rambo offered the fantasy do-over of the aftermath of the Vietnam War, The Kingdom can be seen as a wishful revisionist scenario for the American response to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism." Evan Williams of The Australian called it "an excellent thriller" and stated that it "may be the first Hollywood film to confront Saudi involvement in international terrorism."
New York Post critic Lou Lumenick stated that "Hollywood provides the Islamic world another reason to hate America with The Kingdom," calling it "xenophobic" and "pandering." AV Club critic Scott Tobias gave the movie a C, criticizing the movie's "queasy brand of escapism" by offering the audience the pleasure of "[w]inning imaginary wars" and giving an idealized portrayal of the efficiency of American intelligence. He says the film appeals to the audience's "basest instincts" and that, despite one sympathetic Arab character, the film could be tarred as racist. Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly accused the film of "treating its audience like cash-dispensing machines". Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times called it "a slick excuse for efficient mayhem that's not half as smart as it would like to be." He added that "the film's thematic similarity to those jingoistic World War II-era 'Yellow Peril' films makes it hard not to feel your humanity being diminished."
Middle Eastern reception
Faisal Abbas, media editor of the London-based international Arabic journal Asharq Al Awsat, wrote on the newspaper's English website that "despite some aspects which might be perceived by some as negative, many might be pleasantly surprised after watching this film, bearing in mind that Arabs have for a long time been among Hollywood's favorite villains." Faisal concluded that "In all cases, the film is definitely action-packed, and perhaps Saudis and Arabs may enjoy it more than Americans, as events are depicted as taking place in the Saudi capital…and it is not every day that you watch a Hollywood-style car chase happening on the streets of Riyadh. For Westerners, the movie might be an interesting “insight” to a culture that is very different to their own."
In a review titled One good Arab for The Guardian, Palestinian writer Sharif Nashashibi argues the film is one in a long tradition of Western works where Arabs are vilified and Americans are portrayed as heroes, only that this time it bothered to add "a token Arab 'good guy'", equating good with pro-American, "to make up for the fact that the rest of the Arab characters are bad." All other Arab characters in the movie, he says, "are portrayed negatively - from the brutal, hate-filled, anti-western, religiously fanatical terrorists, to the inept, corrupt, heavy-handed, secretive and frustratingly bureaucratic Saudi authorities", as opposed to the "humanity, grief, compassion, determination, ability and patriotism of most of the American characters". He concludes that "The Kingdom perpetuates negative stereotypes for a quick buck and an adrenaline rush, at a time in the world where breeding such ignorance and prejudice has proven catastrophic." He also took issue with star Jamie Foxx's anti-Arab comments to the US press despite being "treated 'like royalty' in the United Arab Emirates" during the shooting.
Box office performance
The film grossed $17.1 million in 2,733 theatres in the United States and Canada on its opening weekend, ranking #2 at the box office. It also grossed £919,537 in the United Kingdom, about $1.9 million. As of December 15, 2007, the film has grossed an estimated $47,536,778 in the United States and $39,042,352 at the foreign box office with a worldwide gross of $86,579,130.
The film has been successful in the rental market, including Netflix; grossing $77.4 million in the United States as of April 13, 2008.
The film had been banned in several Arab countries for claims of being biased against Saudi treatment with terrorism.
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- (Arabic: أبو حمزة المصري, Abū Ḥamzah al-Maṣrī) born Mustafa Kamel Mustafa
- The Kingdom's Peter Berg
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- Official website
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- The Kingdom exclusive movie trailer – Times Online
- Article about the banning of "The Kingdom" from Babylon & Beyond, the Los Angeles Times' Middle East blog