The War on Terror isn’t easy for Hollywood. Time was when Team America could pour scorn on Arab terrorists without equivocation, but that time is past. Post-Abu Ghraib, post-Fallujah, post-anything really (post-“Mission Accomplished”), America’s reputation abroad is so shaky these days that even Hollywood (the town that tackled the Cold War with such gusto) isn’t sure exactly what the movie-going public wants to see. In the coming months we’ll watch Bob Redford’s take on the war (Ordinary Palestinians?) with Lions for Lambs; share Reese Witherspoon’s Julia-Roberts-esque anguish in Rendition; and find out if Tommy Lee Jones will pull out all the stops and use Expression B in In the Valley of Elah. First up it’s Jamie Foxx and co. in The Kingdom.
Imagine Black Rain set in Riyadh. It’s not a bad way of preparing for The Kingdom. You’ve got the U.S. cops (this time they’re FBI agents) on foreign soil; the quiet yet honourable local cop (this time he’s Saudi military) assigned to guide them; a lot of pushing and shoving and a shoot out at the end. There’s nothing quite as memorable as Andy Garcia’s decapitation, but tough guys and wannabe toughs will definitely be content. We begin at an employee softball game inside the American oil workers compound in Riyadh. Terrorists attack. Many die. The Saudis want a strictly local investigation but FBI agent Jamie Foxx wants revenge (his buddy died in the attack). Soon enough, weasely D.A. Danny Huston has been elbowed aside and the Feds are in Riyadh, kickin’ ass and taking names (this ain’t a subtle movie).
Jamie Foxx is good at being a bad ass. He did it well in Miami Vice and he does it well here. There isn’t much to his role; we get a quick insert of him being a family man at the start, but after that it’s strictly target practise. He looks like he knows which end of a gun means business and he doesn’t look unconvincing hitting a man. You could say much the same of Jennifer Garner if you switch the pronouns. She’s proficient – like Foxx – by way of not calling attention to herself. Chris Cooper fairs better, as he always does; taking the role of “old guy” to Foxx’s “black guy” and Garner’s “girl”, making it into something through lack of expression and a lifer’s attitude (you can almost picture him yawning in the midst of a fire-fight). If I might nod to Danny Huston (whom I worship), he plays the weasly D.A. like a seasoned weasel, and that guy who once played either Bill or Ted’s father is great as Foxx etcetera’s boss.
The action of the movie is a bit over-edited for me, but it does its job and revs you up wherever the talk scenes go on too long. There’s a hell of a car chase on a Riyadh freeway near the end, and a gun battle (with bazookas!) that comes within striking distance of Heat. Director Peter Berg seems to love shoving the camera as close as he can to people’s faces. My guess is it’s for INTENSITY, but zooming out a little might have been an idea too. Riyadh looks good (or wherever they did shoot the exteriors) and I also liked the camels (who all looked, appropriately, dazed).
What does the movie tell us about the War on Terror? Not much and maybe everything, I’d guess. “Not much” because it’s an action movie – and action movies aren’t there for talk. “Maybe everything” because – what’s more American than an action movie? I know Lions for Lambs will doubtless be more complicated, and Rendition more prone to hugs, but isn’t The Kingdom where we’re really at – with everyone armed and no-one keen on détente? At the close of the movie, two characters say “kill ’em all”, each focusing their hate on different “’em”s. It’s shameless, intellectually bankrupt, 4-in-the-morning-grad-student moral relativism. But it makes a point. Wars end when people tire of fighting. To look at The Kingdom, we’ve a long way to go yet.