Edinburgh Sees The Kingdom

Berg's latest is Festival Surprise Movie

Audiences at the Edinburgh International Film Festival were among the first in the world to see The Kingdom, when Peter Berg’s explosive action thriller was unveiled as the programme’s unnamed Surprise Movie on Wednesday night. The film – starring Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner and Chris Cooper – follows an FBI team who head to Riyadh to work with Saudi police after a terrorist attack kills over 100 American citizens in a supposedly secure compound.

No disrespect to Berg – who draws great performances out of his cast and handles the action scenes with tremendous skill – but The Kingdom looks, sounds and feels like a Michael Mann movie. And, indeed, Mann is one of the producers. The opening car bomb attack on the compound is devastatingly realistic, but it’s when the good guys start closing in on the bad guys in a built-up downtown Riyadh neighbourhood that the gunplay really resembles Mann at his best.

Overall, The Kingdom plays like Syriana with beefed-up West Wing politics and increased firepower. On a political level, when it opens it won’t so much be Operation Desert Storm as Operation Shitstorm, when accusations begin to fly about American imperialism and an anti-Islamic bias. Which, in this case, is nonsense. The film is anti-fundamentalist, but in no way anti-Muslim. The two bravest characters in the film are Saudi police officers. In fact, let’s start a campaign now to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Ashraf Barhoum, who plays the dedicated Colonel Al-Ghazi.

In previous years, Edinburgh’s Surprise Movie slot has been filled by Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, LA Confidential, Spirited Away and The Bourne Identity. The Kingdom itself opens at the end of September in the US and is slated for an October 5 general release in the UK. By a handy coincidence, one of the film’s stars, Chris Cooper, flies into Edinburgh on Thursday for an audience interview session tied into the Festival’s screening of Breach. No doubt he will now have to field a few questions about The Kingdom as well.

Check back for the full Empire review, still to come.