March 25th: Black gold blues

77. The Kingdom (Peter Berg, 2007) 

Expectations were low for this, I needed something action oriented to see me through a late night. I got what I wanted, frenetic panicky action with great spatial awareness, but I got a lot more too. I really enjoyed Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights, it had a style and outlook that I really admired and something that is rarely seen in a sports film. There is a definite continuation of this style in The Kingdom but we have a much different story. The film starts with a startling and brilliant sequence which explains the history of Saudi Arabia (The Kingdom of the title), as far as condensed history lessons go, this is superb. It traces from the formation of the state early last century through to the modern day and the crucial relationship with the United States in a story drenched in thick black oil. And it manages it in less than two minutes. After I finished the film I watched this again – a higher recommendation I cannot give. The story then takes off, an American oil company housing estate in Saudi Arabia is attacked and American citizens die. The FBI are immediately on hand suggesting that they ‘put US boots on Saudi soil’ to find the killers. They are rebuked by every other arm of government, but they eventually find a way in. They have 5 days to find the killers with the help, or hinderance, of the Saudi security forces.

The Kingdom is slick intelligent film-making from the hands of a very talented writer and director. I’ve mentioned the quality of the action and the way Peter Berg manipulates space to create tension – the climactic scenes convey genuine panic and exhilaration successfully. Part of this is also down to the characters who aren’t spectacular but are sympathetic and human enough to engender reasonable sympathy. There is one stand out though, Ashraf Barhom as Colonel Faris Al Ghazi. Here lies the true heart of the film. His performance as the man trapped between two divergent worlds is superb as he balances his patriotism with his desire for justice. The political aspect of the film is finely balanced too, there aren’t any easy answers on display. Whilst it doesn’t approximate the complexity of the true situation it doesn’t condescend either. An unusually intelligent action film for the post 9/11 audience.

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