The Kingdom only really gets going in its final act. This fact begs the question, “Is the first and second act worth sitting through?”, or to phrase it another way, “Is the payoff worth it?” For my money, no, it isn’t worth it. Sitting through what equates to the vast majority of the film is not worth the time commitment just for some exciting action scenes at the end.
However, the first portion of the film isn’t terrible, but it is just about average. Not much is bad about it, but there isn’t anything to praise either, except for some clever dialogue and exposition on the Saudi Arabian culture. That’s about all there is to keep you interested for most of the film, which is a shame, because there are a lot of semi-interesting characters, some of which almost warrant sympathy.
The story goes a little something like this: There is a bombing in Saudi Arabia. The Americans want to find out who is behind it. They send four FBI agents, consisting of Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. Foxx is the determined and rational one, Cooper is the intelligent one, Garner is the moping one, and Bateman is the one that makes jokes at both opportune and inappropriate times.
These four people are sent into Saudi Arabia to determine exactly what went on, and to look for clues as to who performed the bombings. They are met with hostility, not only from civilians, but from the people they are working with. It seems that the native customs do not allow foreigners to perform certain actions — ones that would be easily accepted in America. The culture clash here is somewhat interesting, and serves as the glue to hold the film together until really interesting things happen. Well, the different cultures, and the interactions between the main characters.
Or at least, the interactions would be interesting if we got a decent look at the characters. From memory, I can think of exactly one scene in which the camera was not moving around like the cameraman had a desperate need to go to the bathroom. That scene takes place in an office, and the characters are not moving. The rest of the film, the camera is constantly in motion, never letting us catch a clear shot of anything. Tripods, it would seem, were not a part of the production budget.
Complaining about the camerawork would seem foolish of me had the entire film been executed like the final 30 or so minutes — which is almost all action and is actually entertaining. Having constantly moving cameras makes sense in this case. However, when characters are sitting around talking, or walking slowly around, you don’t need their body constantly going out of frame. It takes away from the focus of the film, distracting rather than engaging its audience.
On top of this, it felt like The Kingdom was trying to do too much. Its opening leads you to believe that it will have a lot to do with politics, but in reality, they are there just as a backdrop. After an unknown enemy is introduced, the film takes two paths: A character study that you won’t care about, and an action route, in which you will be excited for a short while, but still feel like nothing really mattered.
I mean, this is a film that’s big ideas are as follows: Terrorism, the oil conflict and different cultures. How does this get mostly overlooked, and instead we just get bored from characters walking around, trying to discover who ordered someone to set off explosions? These are big issues — topical ones as well — and we’re left wondering what the film’s stance is on any of them. There are some contradictions thrown in as well, but it mostly sidesteps saying anything.
While there is an attempt at a character study, I don’t believe the characters to be quite interesting enough to base most of the film around them. They’re mostly one-note, with my descriptions early on holding true right up until the end. The acting from Foxx and Cooper is good, and their characters are interesting, but Garner and Bateman — please get them off the screen. Garner pouts about a fallen comrade for the entire film, while Bateman makes random jokes that are not funny or intelligent. Their characters are a waste, and there was little reason to include them. Once character I haven’t mentioned yet is a member of the Saudi State Police, played by Ashraf Barhom. He actually turns out to be the most charismatic and likable member of the cast. Funny how things like that work out, isn’t it?
I can’t say that The Kingdom is worth watching. It’s too boring to be called “entertaining”, and the camerawork will make you lose focus on whatever it is the film is trying to get across. The final act is quite entertaining, it’s just too bad the first two will make you want to turn off the film before you get that far. Decent acting on the whole, but the characters are too one-note to hold your attention, while the story can’t decided which direction it wants to take. On the whole, definitely not worth it.