Produced by Michael Mann (director of "Collateral") and looking like a Mann movie (although directed by Peter Berg), "The Kingdom" starts with a credit sequence that looks into a history of Saudi Arabia, starting in the 1930's and moving up to 9/11. Afterwards, the film cuts to a picnic at a US base in Saudi Arabia, where the quiet of the day is broken by a horrifying attack by terrorists posing as local police.
FBI investigator Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) pushes past government authorities to get clearance to take a team - intelligence analyst Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), bomb expert Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), and forensic specialist Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner) into Saudi Arabia in order to track down those responsible, including the terrorist mastermind behind it.
What follows is a good hour of procedural, as the team pieces together the clues at the site and tries to track down participants. This section of the film manages a few tense moments (and a few sluggish stretches, too), but doesn't really have anything to say about the politics of the situation or otherwise; it is simply a not-very-detailed procedural in a different land. When the procedural aspect of it concludes suddenly, it's forgotten about as the picture turns into an action movie for the last half hour, starting with a freeway attack and heading into a neighborhood battle. Overall, this is a thriller and it's not a movie that has much to say about the Middle East - at least anything that hasn't already been said.
Technically, this is a solid picture, with strong production design and fine cinematography. However, it has to be said that this does feel like a director trying to make a Michael Mann film and making a film that looks like someone trying to make a Michael Mann film. While Berg does get the sleek, cold style of Mann down, he doesn't really try to create the kind of rich, bold mood, atmosphere and texture that Mann has managed to accomplish in every one of his films. Apparently Mann was originally going to direct this film, and I would have liked to have seen what he would have done with the material.
The performances are generally terrific, although I particularly liked Garner. While she's certainly done this kind of thing before many times, she manages to do a fine job portraying the hurt and emotion under a tough exterior. Foxx and Cooper also provide reasonably good supporting efforts, and while Bateman is also enjoyable, his character seems a little out-of-place. Jeremy Piven apparently is now playing a variation on his "Entourage" character in every role; this time, he's an irritating government official.
Overall, this is a technically solid and generally well-acted thriller, but the story and characters aren't particularly well-developed, and the movie has moments but doesn't manage to be memorable.
VIDEO: "Kingdom" is presented by Universal in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is generally very good throughout the film - while it occasionally runs into a couple of minor concerns, the level of picture quality remains above average throughout much of the running time. Sharpness and detail are solid, as the picture boasts consistently pleasing defintion and detail.
Some minimal edge enhancement surfaced at times, but the picture was never effected by it very much. Pixelation was not noticed, while the print appeared to be in excellent condition - minor grain at times seemed to be an intentional element of the cinematography. Colors remained subdued, but appeared accurately presented
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is remarkably intense during the action sequences, with the surrounds flaring up intensely, aggressively delivering effects and ambience. During the remainder of the movie, the audio remained forward-oriented, with a nice spread across the front soundstage. Audio quality was fine, with crisp, well-recorded effects and clear, clean-sounding dialogue.
EXTRAS: Director Peter Berg offers up a commentary for the film. While Berg does provide a moderately informative discussion of the production when he does speak, his low-key discussion and stretches of silence take this track down a couple notches. We also get three featurettes: "Character By Character: The Apartment Shootout", "Creating The Kingdom" and "Constructing the Freeway Sequence".
Final Thoughts: Overall, this is a technically solid and generally well-acted thriller, but the story and characters aren't particularly well-developed, and the movie has moments but doesn't manage to be memorable.
The Film B-