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Film review: The Kingdom

TheKingdom_Theatrical1sht.jpg The Kingdom is a noteworthy film for several reasons. First and foremost, its depiction of Islamic terrorism is about as clearheaded as anything I’ve seen out of Hollywood. The bad guys are Muslims acting as Muslims, and there is hardly even a gesture toward “religion of peace” or “perversion of a great religion” sophistry. To be sure, the film makes no real attempt to examine the ineradicably Islamic character of the Jihad, exhibits little curiosity about the whole sanguinary tradition of holy war: but that is just as well, as most Hollywood curiosity along these lines descends rapidly into sentimentalism, illusion, or bewilderment.

Secondly, it is noteworthy for several masterful action sequences, culminating in a rolling firefight that moves from street to cramped apartment complex, which frankly left this viewer breathless.

Finally, the film is noteworthy for the surprising preeminence achieved by an unlikely character: a Saudi police colonel (played by a newcomer named Ashraf Barhom) who begins as the babysitter for a team of FBI agents investigating a series of attacks on Westerners in Saudi Arabia, and ends their comrade-at-arms. This guy steals the show.

The film is not without flaws. It’s pacing is ineffective at times. The plot is pedestrian. The brief denouement seems exceptionally forced, as if the filmmakers just tacked it on at post-production. Stars Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner manage only mediocre portrayals of their characters. But the finely-rendered action, the firm resistance to PC nonsense on Islam, and the unexpected brilliance of Mr. Barhom, make it, in my judgment, a worthwhile movie.

This year we were treated to a bevy of terrorism-related films, most of them of a distinctly anti-American bent. Comically, many of these films were marketed as edgy, provocative or subversive — “this is not your father’s Hollywood” pronounced one TV network upon introducing a piece on these films. Of course, depicting American soldiers and intelligence officers as lunatics, dupes, depraved criminals, or degenerates, and the American military as a basically irremediable institution, is one of the most stale and hackneyed cinematic traditions of the last 25 years. Anti-Americanism is precisely “your father’s Hollywood.”

The Kingdom decisively bucks this trend, and for that it predictably earned the enmity of the keepers of the stale tradition.

It’s an old story now, but worth repeating: if you want to produce an edgy and provocative film, if you want to arouse the blind hostility of the critical set, if you want to shake up the standard prejudices and annoy the elite, what you ought to do is shoot a pro-American film. Chesterton had it right: affirming virtue today has all the exhilaration of vice.

Image credit: Universal Pictures.

Comments (10)

What do you think of the ending? Doesn't it seem to say both sides have a bloodthirsty (and perhaps irrational?) desire for revenge?

That was my problem as well. "Don't worry, we'll kill them all," uttered by both the terrorist to his granddaughter, and by one of our hero FBI agents to a colleague, to assuage her grief. The note of moral equivalency may not have been intended, but it's unmistakably there. But it is worth seeing for the reasons you give.

If not moral equivalency, then perhaps the idea that violence only begets more violence, and the solution, if there is one, lies elsewhere?

I mentioned the "exceptionally forced denouement." That's what I had in mind. It seemed artificial and too clever by half. Even earlier in the film, when the one character asked Foxx what he had said at that original briefing, struck an odd chord with me. Why would he pry like that? You almost suspect that someone at Universal said to the producer: this movie is too pro-American, you'll have to make some adjustments.

Yes, and in real life the character would have asked that question immediately after the fact, not weeks later. I did enjoy the portrayals of bureaucrats and our Saudi hero's distaste for foul language.

"The bad guys are Muslims acting as Muslims, and there is hardly even a gesture toward “religion of peace” or “perversion of a great religion” sophistry."

Wasn't the Saudi police colonel also Muslim? -- I seem to recall some sympathetic scenes of he and his family at evening prayers.

I thought the ending was ridiculous as well -- a little akin to the closing scene of Spielberg's Munich.

We're watching this weekend. I'm looking forward to it. I'll come back and update my review :-).

I have not seen the movie but now I must see it, for I'm very tired of hollywoods anti American bigotry.

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