Director Peter Berg's latest effort, The Kingdom, is a high-intensity action drama that succeeds on all levels. And by that, I mean it blows away most of the competition as being one of the year's best so far. The film, about an FBI team who goes to Saudi Arabia to find out who is behind a devastating terrorist attack, boasts a star-studded cast and gritty imagery throughout. It also marks another large cinematic jump for director Peter Berg, who shows he has improved mightily from the less-than-stellar Very Bad Things less than ten years ago.
Berg's visuals are a feast for the viewers' eyes. The handheld camera work, which has proven to be a successful style in films such as Babel and Syriana, never distracts from the action. Particularly, the visual direction in the film's non-stop 30-minute concluding sequence will leave you with your mouth open. Easily, the sequence has some of the most engaging shootout action since Black Hawk Down.
On top of the brilliant cinematography and direction, the stars are all at their best. Jamie Foxx, who again and again is proving himself to be one of the best actors working today, is pitch perfect in the role as the stubborn-headed investigator. Every line is delivered by Foxx with an exacted coolness that just makes you smile. How come we too cannot talk with such badassness in our daily conversations? Alongside Foxx is the ever brilliant Chris Cooper, who should probably just be given an Oscar before he starts works on any film.
The two big question marks going into the film for me, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, also exceeded any expectations I had for them. Bringing her ass-kicking skills with her from her Alias days, but throwing away her usual young innocent image, Garner proves herself to be a quality dramatic actress. Bateman, who is mostly involved to add comic relief, does just that, but is also pivotal to the story's progression and also displays his dramatic talents as well. The other performance that must be mentioned is that of Ashraf Barhom, who has more screen time than any character besides Foxx. Barhom, unlike other Hollywoodized Middle Eastern substitutes, seems like he has lived in Saudi Arabia all his life. He brings an intensity and earnestness to the role that I believe few Americanized actors could deliver.
In the trailer, the film appears more like a drama with action elements; however, the actual story plays much more like an action film in many respects. There are certainly suspensions of disbelief regarding the fast moving timeline of the story and how certain elements fall into place. With that said, the film moves so quickly and with such intensity that you really don't care. The last sequence could have taken place in a McDonald's playpen and the audience still would probably be blown away.The Kingdom is one of the first must-see films of the year. In a so far solid, yet not award-packed year, this is one of the first contenders. While I would be somewhat surprised if we see the film in the Best Picture category come February, it certainly is deserving of high recognition. Unfortunately for Peter Berg, award-prolific Paul Haggis is also at work this fall, which means that if Haggis's In the Valley of Elah isn't recognized, the Academy will probably just renominate Crash. Looks like Berg will have to wait until next year.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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