THE KINGDOM (***1/2) - Starring Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhoum, Jeremy Piven, Danny Huston, Richard Jenkins, Ali Suliman, Kyle Chandler and Frances Fisher. Directed by Peter Berg.
Peter Berg is turning into a really good director. There are good directors I look to for art films (Coens, PT Anderson...), and for solid genre films (Ridley Scott, Michael Mann), and for both (Martin Scorsese). Peter Berg is ready to join the Scott/Mann eschelon in my book.
Berg directed the decent action comedy The Rundown, starring The Rock and Seann William Scott, which was as good as one could hope. He also did Friday Night Lights, one of the better sports movies of the last decade (so real in its drama it made me depressed). Now here is an action movie that has the thoughtfulness of FNL with Mann-esque shoot-outs. I really enjoyed it.
The opening credits give us a brief history of the relation between the US and Saudi Arabia. In certain areas, Americans are able to live freely in Saudi Arabia without being subject to the oppressive Muslim rules that apply to the Saudis. When terrorists target these Americans, an elite FBI squad is sent in to help the Saudi government catch the perpetrators.
The first half involves culture clashing between the Americans and Saudis, not really trusting each other. Once they're able to get on the same page, the hunt is on, and the intensity ratchets up. I appreciated a movie where I genuinely cared about the characters living or dying.
Jamie Foxx is in reliable form here, and I really enjoyed Ashraf Barhoum as the lead Saudi investigator, out to catch these men who kill in the name of his own religion. Berg knows how to pace a story and catch the small moments in the midst of tight action.