Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Jamie Foxx……….Ronald Fleury
Chris Cooper……….Grant Sykes
Jennifer Garner……….Janet Mayes
Jason Bateman……….Adam Leavitt
Ashraf Barhom……….Colonel Faris Al Ghazi
Ali Suliman……….Sergeant Haytham
Jeremy Piven……….Damon Schmidt
A funny thing happened after Ray for Jamie Foxx. He went from being the star of such luminary films as Booty Call to being on the A-list of actors for nearly ever prestige picture. After critical acclaim in Jarhead and Dreamgirls, Foxx is once again at the forefront of another film aimed at the Academy Awards in The Kingdom. Originally slotted for April, the overwhelmingly positive results from test screenings were convincing enough to put the film into Oscar contention. Which is a good decision because The Kingdom is one of the year’s best.
Foxx stars as Ronald Fleury, head of an FBI direct response unit. When a well-coordinated and deadly attack on a foreign workers compound in Saudi Arabia leaves plenty dead, including several FBI agents, Foxx heads up a response unit that has five days to find the man behind the vicious attack. Together with a crime analyst (Jennifer Garner), an explosives expert (Chris Cooper) and the resident wise-cracker (Jason Bateman), the film begins as a 90 minute police procedural and finishes with a final act that is perhaps the best of the decade so far in terms of both its intensity as well as its pace.
If one didn’t know any better one would think this would be a film by Michael Mann. The film’s intensity, pace as well as its subtle character development are all hallmarks of the legendary director and yet Mann is only the film’s producer. The vision behind The Kingdom is longtime character actor Peter Berg, who previously had helmed critical hits Friday Night Lights and The Rundown, obviously has been influenced by Mann but has a style that’s a tad different. He incorporates a lot of the same shots that Mann is famous for, but Berg adds some things to it as well in the film’s final act.
For the first 90 minutes of the film it’s a top-notch police procedural, as Foxx and his team have to adapt to the foreign environment and try to assist the Saudi police force in trying to apprehend the killers responsible for the massacre. There’s an air of uncertainty afoot, as Berg creates an atmosphere of urgency that’s incredibly gripping. Berg’s creative touch takes over for the film’s final third, as the plot goes from a police procedural into an action extravaganza. As Foxx and his team navigate a fighting zone, Berg keeps the intensity coming as he pulls out every trick in the book and adds another. From RPGs exploding everywhere to close-quarters combat, Berg turns up the intensity and makes it feel that maybe the good guys won’t win this round. It’s the sign of a veteran, mature filmmaker who knows exactly the sort of story he needs to tell.
Berg is also blessed with a top-notch cast as well. While Chris Cooper may have had the better performance in Breach earlier this year, he’s no slouch as the crusty Southerner who knows about explosives. Jason Bateman provides plenty of comic relief, and Foxx carries the film with his unique blend of charm and intensity, but the film’s pleasant surprise is Garner. Known for more action roles that require her presence moreso than her acting, she holds her own on the screen with her more dramatically established cast mates and has perhaps the film’s best action sequence towards the end.
Plenty of films get their release dates moved due to a variety of reasons, most of them having to do with the quality (or the lack thereof) of the film. The Kingdom was pushed back nearly six months from release because it could be the next Academy Award winner for Best Picture.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):