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Tom Bresnahan
Chris Cooper
Jamie Foxx
Jennifer Garner
Jason Bateman
Jeremy Piven
Ashraf Barhoum.
Peter Berg.
Matthew Michael Carnahan.
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The Kingdom
Politically-charged thriller with FBI agents hunting terrorists in Saudi Arabia.

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Following a catastrophic bombing at a Western enclave in Saudi Arabia, an FBI team flies in to help with the investigation. Once on the ground, they learn that things are done differently in The Kingdom.

The Kingdom
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Sometime actor Peter Berg has had an overlooked career as a director. From the underrated pitch-black caper Very Bad Things he graduated to the endearingly brainless action of Welcome To The Jungle, and from there to the excellent, if unseen (at least in this country) Friday Night Lights. But The Kingdom should change that. Arguably this is his first serious film, tackling a Big Important Subject (East-West relations) with an Oscar-friendly cast (Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper) and achieving a skilful blend of action and politics — even if the action is rather more astute than the message-making.

The film starts with a credit sequence rip through Saudi Arabian history, a snappy distillation of 150 years of history. And the pace doesn’t let up from there: we’re thrown straight into an attack on a Western community in Riyadh, chillingly realised. It’s a good 15 minutes before the film slows enough to introduce the principal characters, and then only as thumbnail sketches rather than portraits of our protagonists.

It’s clear that investigator Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) and his FBI team — bomb expert Sykes (Chris Cooper), pathologist Mayes (Jennifer Garner) and analyst Leavitt (Jason Bateman), all creating rounded characters with minimal dialogue — have a personal stake in seeing those responsible for the bombing brought to justice. As such, they flout US State Department orders and arrive in the city with an often high-handed attitude to those locals already charged with the investigation.

The fact that they are right, more often than not, and that even what appear to be personal bugbears and obsessions prove well-founded, is the film’s weakness. There’s a good basic point to be made — inexpert military types don’t make great crime-scene investigators — but too many scenes suggest that Americans just know better, even without their fancy forensic techniques.

Countering this, as best he can, is a captivating performance from Ashraf Barhoum as the Colonel charged with guiding, guarding, restraining and interpreting for these interlopers. Barhoum gradually forges something like a buddy-cop partnership with Foxx’s Fleury, with the film allowing him some room, both as an individual and as a representative of his nation and the Arab world, to put across his point of view.

But for all its award friendliness and issue-making, the fact is that any characterisation on either side is almost entirely down to the quality of the cast, because the script concentrates on fitting
both a police procedural and an explosive action film into its 110 minutes — CSI: Riyadh meets The Bourne Ultimatum. And it’s here that Berg excels himself, at times capturing the intensity and feel for urban unrest of Michael Mann (a producer on this film). It’s the set-pieces that confirm he’s a director to be reckoned with.

Berg begins the opening attack with some lingering shots — the baseball game on a sunny day, a picnic, laughing Aryan types in L. L. Bean chinos — but he rips the tranquillity apart, blowing cliché off the screen. The first shots only cause mass confusion, and the real attack begins before you, or the victims, realise what’s happening. The shock of those moments echoes through the film.

A showdown inevitably arrives but seems to come out of nowhere, derailing all the meticulous and talky evidence-gathering. The final act is an all-out battle, chips and dust flying as a Riyadh tenement building disintegrates under a hail of gunfire and explosions — think Heat with more snipers. But the most disturbing moments are close-up: a desperate prisoner lashing out at his captors; a vicious knife battle; terrified women and children in the midst of a war zone. The most chilling moment, however, comes in the final scenes. A potentially too-neat parallel between terrorist and lawman makes way for a killer last line, a moment of political honesty that will stay with you long after the film ends.

Not quite as smart as it wants to be, and a better action movie than it is a political thriller, this is still a heart-pounding drama.

Reviewed by Helen O'Hara

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Kingdom
Empire Star Rating

Just re-watched this...

Off of the back of American Sniper, I'm revisiting films that basically feature American's fighting in deserty places. This was just about as good as I remember. It's interesting, this is super-tense and exciting... <once> you get past the ridiculousness of its premise (they're after Abu Hamza, even though he's been in jail since '04, and before then he was hanging around North London - so why are they after him in Saudi Arabia!?) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 19:06, 27 February 2015 | Report This Post

When I first saw the trailer for this film I was really put off wanting to see it because to me it looked like an American propaganda film with American's showing strength over the Saudi's. One of my housemates bought the DVD just recently and I decided to have a watch. The opening ten minutes of the film are promising but then the pace of the film slows down considerably after that. It's the same slow pace throughout up until the last 25 minutes when it's non-stop action. There's som... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by PureAinmhi at 22:42, 13 January 2009 | Report This Post


Watched this last night and gotta admit, it was on the rental list but I was not too bothered about watching it. I was glad i did cos I can't remember the last time I nearly fell OFF the edge of my seat! It does not let up from beginning to end and the performances are great, it has controversial themes which I was surprised were tackled in the current climate and certain images are shocking. What a great movie. Spot on entertainment which is what a film should be. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by boostergold at 23:54, 19 June 2008 | Report This Post

RE: One hell of a thriller.

I was thoroughly dissapointed with The Kingdom. With Mann on board I was expecting great things but I really couldn't see an influence. Seemed very amateurish in the way it handled Middle Eastern politics, surely a subject that should not be taken lightly. However I don't even think it succeeds as an action film, the motorway scene was good but the other gun fights seemed very flat and well, boring.   I'd give it 3 stars at best.   ... More

Posted by Mardybum at 02:34, 19 May 2008 | Report This Post

RE: One hell of a thriller.

Rented this on DVD last night.   A solid, gripping movie, with some great peformances...there were a few slight flaws, as already mentioned, but overall good.   Thoroughly enjoyable. 4/5 ... More

Posted by Newander at 13:48, 16 May 2008 | Report This Post

One hell of a thriller.

This movie kind of really knocked me out. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 19:14, 29 March 2008 | Report This Post

RE: The Kingdom

Everyone is a professional critic on these boards! ... More

Posted by The REAL Bozz at 11:57, 23 March 2008 | Report This Post

RE: The Kingdom

Well, I want to be a professional critic, as well as a filmmaker. ... More

Posted by R W at 11:55, 23 March 2008 | Report This Post

RE: The Kingdom

Ah right.p; Was just curious - can see you have put a lot of work into them. ... More

Posted by Rgirvan44 at 23:32, 22 March 2008 | Report This Post

RE: The Kingdom

I managed to got my connection back on Empire after months of writing reviews. Computer problems, really! ... More

Posted by R W at 23:30, 22 March 2008 | Report This Post

RE: The Kingdom

Have you had all these reviews saved up somewhere or are you spending the day writing them? ... More

Posted by Rgirvan44 at 22:03, 22 March 2008 | Report This Post

RE: The Kingdom

r:Berg riter: Michael Carnahan g:Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom, Jeremy Piven sI team has been sent to the Middle East to investigate a bombing, until they become become targets themselves in the Kingdom. /b] Two years ago we had iamond tried to bring back the so-called serious action thrillers from the 1980s, and now gdomm that is perhaps better. From producer Michael Mann, and directed by Peter Berg, who starred in Mann's rals a thriller tha... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 19:20, 22 March 2008 | Report This Post

RE: 8/10

Id give it a solid 8/10. A great action film with a good message but just cant seem to put that message across. The best performance is from the guy that plays the Saudi police officer. The shoot outs were effective but Jamie Foxx did seem to be able to get weapons out of nowhere. The other actors like Jennifer Garnderner seemed to fade into the back-ground due to the little dialouge they were given. I think it might be a little to early to make films about the Middle East conflict. Thi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by MathewRed at 12:15, 12 February 2008 | Report This Post

Tense, Exciting, Action Packed Kingdom

Great movie. Could have used a little politics but for the uninitiated it's a nice intro course. Love the combo of Foxx, Garner, Cooper, and Bateman--please recast them in another movie--sequel??? Great effects, acting, and action. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 15:06, 10 February 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Propaganda

Seen this on DVD last night. Good action thriller, good characters, very impressed with Peter Berg these days, turning into a very solid director. Cant wait to see Hancock. Yeah theres the downside of Amercian agents kick ass and get things done, but apart from that a good film. ... More

Posted by broonie at 16:14, 07 February 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Propaganda

I liked this a lot thought i would not but in the end the cast and the director gave us a pretty good movie. Foxx was ok but the rest of the cast were ace. The final gun battle is amazing and the whole film works well No classic but solid enough 7.5/10  ... More

Posted by filmburner30 at 12:45, 06 February 2008 | Report This Post

The kingdom

The kingdom was an action thriller. I enjoyed it but i felt it went on for too long and fell asleep with 30 minutes to go! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by harry5006 at 13:11, 02 February 2008 | Report This Post

The kingdom

The kingdom was an action thriller. I enjoyed it but i felt it went on for too long and fell asleep with 30 minutes to go! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by harry5006 at 13:11, 02 February 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Decent Thriller

One you get over the 'Americans ride into town to show it how it's done' bullshit we have an entertaining and well acted action thriller on our hands. The initial setpiece terrorist attack is devastating and superbly handled for maximum shock value, and the action generally is top notch (the final firefight with RPGs and grenades is straight out of Heat).   I would however love to see a Middle Eastern action thriller where the US are the bad guys because we really need to even th... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 19:42, 01 February 2008 | Report This Post

part political thriller, part action film. good film to start with,however it then descends into a typical action film. the scenes between foxx and Barhoum are very well played out. they boyh want the same things but are thwart by politics and culturaral differences. Good ideas average exucation. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ron10 at 17:26, 28 January 2008 | Report This Post

is it just me or....

didn't Ian Nathan give this 2 stars in the magazine DVD review? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mrwinky99 at 09:07, 24 January 2008 | Report This Post

its interesting readin the latest issue off empire that this film has now dropped a star when it comes to being released on dvd! hmmm! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by sagent33 at 17:33, 22 January 2008 | Report This Post


Mark Kermode on Radio 5 Live summed up The Kingdom best, in that he recognised it to be two films that had been joined together. Both are well made, well acted and engrossing in their own right, but as the director Peter Berg lurches between the two the effect is jarring.   It starts with a hardcore, unrepentant scene of violence, from which the main thrust of the plot is conceived: that of a police procedural thriller in which Jamie Foxx and his FBI team are sent to Saudi Arabia to in... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Axel Foley at 19:12, 27 October 2007 | Report This Post

the kingdom is a slightly awkward mix of police procedural and kick ass action pic undeniably the action sequences have m manns stamp on them but sit uncomfortably with the more serious aspects of the film like a mighty heart it give the local police chief a definite character rather than just a foil to the yanks who of course swagger around thinking they know best and seemingly bullet proof foxx cooper and garner do the beast wit... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by quizkid at 12:22, 24 October 2007 | Report This Post

The Kingdom

A good mixture of policial thriller and action movie. A genuinely chilling opening attack on a US base sets the tone for the movie. The first half is all about the politics but it then breaks into a second half full on action movie. The violence is brutal but necessary. I agree with Empire about the showdown coming out of nowhere and they stumble upon the inevitable outcome by accident more than as a result of draining pools of water for evidence etc. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by trueborndjross at 09:21, 18 October 2007 | Report This Post

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