Ryan Chartrand

Making a movie that is essentially about FBI agents retaliating for the bombing of U.S. citizens into a commentary on the delicate and often ambiguous relations between America and the Middle East is no small task. Yet director Peter Berg’s “The Kingdom” does exactly that, showing not only the cycle of misguided violence between the two cultures, but also the humanity of those we most want to call our enemies.

Four passionate FBI agents are called in to investigate the bombing of a U.S. occupied compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. When it becomes clear that the Saudi’s want to conduct the investigation on their own, the team, led by the incredibly perceptive and single-minded FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), arrange to go anyway. Once in Saudi Arabia, they are halted from investigating by local officials who fear the loss of more American lives on their soil.

With only five days to solve the crime before they must leave the country, they employ every method at their disposal to get the information they need. Fleury enlists the help of Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Ashrof Barhom) of the Saudi police to help them gain access to the people who can help them identify the terrorists. As the team digs deeper into the incident, they find themselves becoming the targets of the very terrorists they are hunting, and their lives are in danger.

“The Kingdom” is a combination of crime scene investigation, military action and cultural lesson that weaves just the right amount of each together to keep the audience engaged throughout. Just when the story is most intense, a touch of irreverent humor or commonplace events break the tension. The movie keeps you on the edge of your seat, but it gives you a moment occasionally to catch your breath too.

The opening credits of the movie are meshed well with a small history lesson that helps the audience get into the story. Not only does it give critical background details on the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, it also creates a tense atmosphere that helps to draw the audience in immediately. It also provided one of the most visually suggestive messages of the movie. Whereas the rest of the film violence is overt, the introduction makes references to Sept. 11, 2001 much more indirectly. The audience sees an animation of a plane heading straight for the World Trade Center, and then the screen goes black for a few seconds, giving the audience time to remember their own images from that disaster.

“The Kingdom” does an excellent job of showing both sides of America’s relationship with Middle Eastern nations. Although the story deals with terrorism, it also highlights the peaceful nature of a large portion of the Muslim population. The host of Saudi characters is divided into both friend and foe, and show that our relationships with Middle Eastern countries are anything but simple. The most prominent evidence of this is the friendship of Saudi police officer Colonel Faris Al Ghazi with main character Ronald Fleury. The two are unlikely allies, but begin to respect one another as they realize a common goal of finding the people responsible for the bombing and bringing justice.

This does present a conflicting message in the movie though, because it is essentially a pro-American story. The FBI agents are unequivocally painted as the heroes, and although they befriend many Saudis, they do so only when the Saudis come over to their way of thinking. Even though many of the Saudis compromise to give the agents what they ask for, the agents rarely return the favor. The team only conforms to the Saudi regulations grudgingly and sparingly. This inequality is a bit frustrating in an otherwise fairly equal story.

One of the most interesting parts of the story is the way they portray the cycle of violent retaliation between cultures. The FBI agents are there to get revenge for their dead countrymen, and the Saudis are fighting back to avenge their own dead. Even in the introduction, the audience is told that some terrorist leaders turned against the Saudi government or the U.S. because of past events. Although it is not placed prominently before the viewer until the very end, the movie makes an indirect but distinct link between these actions. It gives a sense of why conflicts like this can spawn into violence that lasts for decades, with each side doing their best to harm the other.

“The Kingdom” is rated R for graphic, brutal violence and language, and it lives up to that rating. It is not for the squeamish as the action scenes are often extremely bloody and straight-forward. In addition to the bombing at the very beginning of the movie, there is one scene where two characters fight for their lives by scratching, kicking and biting when all other weapons fail them.

Ultimately, the thrilling story and slice of Saudi life that “The Kingdom” provides far outweigh its violent moments and Americans-are-all-heroes undertones. Be prepared to have your mind and emotions engaged and held throughout the movie. “The Kingdom” is showing in theaters nationwide starting today.

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