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Action Alphabet: 'The Kingdom'

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There is only one director out there who immediately comes to mind when I think of someone with a body of work with such an extreme differential in qualities amongst his movies, so much so that there’s no middle ground to speak of. Peter Berg may not have a great many movies to his directing credit, but it can’t really be argued that he has anything other than stellar, award-worthy films and lowbrow, imitation Michael Bay box-office fodder. So, the question is, what kind of filmmaker is Peter Berg: an exceptional director who is forced to make opportunistic career choices or a director who happens to be lucky as often as he is unlucky? Whether his best work is happenstance or not, there is one thing he has an unquestionable knack for, and that’s creating sharp and elegant action sequences that are emotionally charged as well as fast and evenly paced, and there’s no better example of this prowess than with Berg’s 2007 film The Kingdom.

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In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia a suicide bomber attacks a group of American families during a softball game and when the FBI arrive on scene a larger bomb is detonated killing even more people and causing even more destruction. Back in the United States, FBI Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) and his investigative team work to get access to the crime scene in the Middle East but the negotiation is not successful. But after blackmailing a Saudi consol, Fleury and his colleagues are granted five days to try and figure out where the terrorist strike originated. But the FBI team runs into all sorts of problems, and not only political ones – once the terrorists realize there are American’s in their territory, the team’s safety gets thinner and thinner with every passing minute until it is non-existent.

Berg does as well as can be expected with his talking heads moments, but in The Kingdom, Berg appears to have the same issues with bringing naturalism to the spoken moments of his film without sounding staged and cliché the same way James Cameron does. In this instance though Berg should be grateful for his awesome cast with Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, and Chris Cooper, actors who dedicate themselves to selling the relatively mild albeit evenly crafted procedural side of the film and, bless them, have fun doing it. Except for a short shootout scene, there is only one real action sequence in the whole movie, but it is more than enough to sate even the biggest action junkies and is well worth waiting through the feature-length “CSI” part to get to the thrilling conclusion. Lasting about twenty minutes inside the last half-hour of the movie, the rescue sequence of one of the kidnapped FBI team members (I won’t spoil who it is) like being struck by lightning. Other than saying that its one of those things that you have to experience for yourself to really understand just how good it is, the only comment I can really make about the ending of this movie is that it is proof positive that Peter Berg has tremendous understanding of how to see immense movement on a large scale without the images and action getting muddled; it seemed unclear if he could ever best himself until he made the extremely hard-hitting Lone Survivor. If Berg’s ability to craft moments of human interest that aren’t fueled by adrenaline ever catches up to his ability to craft mind-blowing action sequences (he came close with the football drama Friday Night Lights, but I would chalk that up again to a great cast), he’d be on par one day lining his shelves with an assortment of top film awards.

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