By the time I was coming to terms with the politics of "The Kingdom," director Peter Berg launches into one of the biggest and best action sequences of 2007, which becomes the primary reason to see the film. A quick primer in the history of Saudi Arabia in the past century is provided during the opening credits before shifting to a community of foreign oil workers and their families living in Riyadh that is hit by a two-fold terrorist attack. FBI agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) wants to get his forensic team on site to investigate, but the Saudis insist on handling things themselves. That situation changes (otherwise this is a totally different movie), and he heads there with pathologist Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), explosives expert Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), and computer geek Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman). But once in Riyadh they find themselves being babysat by Colonel Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), whose primary goal is not to actually assist the Americans in their investigation but rather to make sure they are not killed during the five days they are allowed to be in the Kingdom. At least that is the line Al-Ghazi is spouting at the start of the film..
The hook for this movie is pretty good, with the terrorist attack and the need for vengeance. But then most of this movie is about investigating the bombing, although to be more specific it would be trying to investigate the bombing since the FBI agents are put under such strictures by the Saudi police that they might as well go back home and check things out using a spy satellite. However, the last act of "The Kingdom" is what justifies this movie, because there is a another terrorist attack and the quartet of Americans are right in the middle of it. As a director Berg uses the documentary style that worked so well in "Friday Night Lights," although for most of the film it seems an unnecessary approach. Then we get to the big action sequences and discover Berg is totally in his element at this point. The cast is certainly a unique combination of talent, and the strangest part is not Jason Bateman playing it straight, but watching Jennifer Garner fight and having to remind yourself that she is not Sidney Bristow (or Elektra) and to stop expecting her to dispatch people with dispatch.
Saudi Arabia is one of America's strongest allies in the Middle East, but this film makes it clear that if the country was not parked over all that oil we would want nothing to do with them. The overly didactic ending echoes the infamous declaration associated with the "Pogo" comic strip, "We have met the enemy and they is us," but I suspect the point is more about the ultimate limits of taking an eye for an eye. Clearly there is some warning implicit in the resolution of this film, but how that translates into foreign policy or political support for any particular candidate is too difficult a job of connecting the dots to figure out. Part of me is interested in seeing a movie like that which is just about trying to investigate a crime in a strange land under such strange circumstances, but I suspect it would be hard to come up with a better ending than the pedal to the metal action sequence that brings the extant version home.