The Kingdom

Director: Peter Berg

In the sea of ink spilled regarding the hit-machine of screenplays by the ever-talented and prolific Judd Apatow as one of the top entertainers of the year, other writers were overlooked and not just the ones on the picket lines involved in the WGA strike. No, 2007 was also impressive for first time screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan who, despite American audience’s lack of enthusiasm for topical political dramas and their box office preference for humorous stories where boys are “superbad” and girls are “knocked up,” managed to see not just one but two of his scripts produced with Academy Award winners and A-list talent involved. I’ve already reviewed Lions for Lambs, his second work directed by Robert Redford and produced by Tom Cruise but the first script Carnahan penned-- The Kingdom-- which was partially filmed in my home-state of Arizona that I missed on the big screen, was just released on DVD last week and, for my money, was far more entertaining than Lambs. The film, which begins with a terse but involving education on the brief history of the oil conflict in the Middle East over the course of a century, quickly becomes an action-packed mystery after a tragic two pronged attack is orchestrated by extremists in Saudi Arabia where American citizens in a Western housing compound and FBI agents are murdered. Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx leads an all-star cast as FBI Agent Ronald Fleury who, without permission of Attorney General Danny Huston or other authorities in Washington, dispatches an elite, top-secret four person team comprised of himself, Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman) to investigate the crime. Of course, protocol prevents the agents from handling any of the evidence or touching any Muslim remains and the Americans quickly learn that they are in jeopardy as they dig further to uncover the mastermind responsible and go on the hunt to bring him to justice. Complicated storyline soon gives way to tense action scenes and stunt-work that tragically resulted in the on-set death of one crew members (sadly two other workers died from causes unrelated to the production) and it’s not without reservation that Arizonans such as myself watched The Kingdom after being inundated with the tragic headlines when it was filmed. Foxx is especially good as is the interplay between the other cast members such as folksy Cooper (the polar opposite of the character he played earlier in the year in his brilliant performance in Breach) and Garner and Bateman before the duo teamed up to adopt Ellen Page’s offspring in Ivan Reitman’s Juno. Friday Night Lights director Peter Berg, who has a small cameo as one of the agents in the post-bombing briefing at the start of the film, proves a capable director of large scale action and The Kingdom, which isn’t quite as preachy nor dialogue heavy as some of the other box office misfires regarding the situation overseas in 2007 is sure to gain more fans with the DVD release.