The Kingdom begins, quite literally, with a bang, or, to be more precise, a biggish bang followed by an almighty one. After a suicide bomber claims the lives of more than a hundred US citizens who live, work and play ball in an American-owned oil compound just outside Riyad, Saudi Arabia, a gung-ho team of FBI investigators (Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) blackmail their way into the country to find those responsible. Interestingly the US government doesn’t want Foxx’s team there, nor do the Saudis, and initially the quartet find their every move questioned and/or countermanded, their valiant forensic efforts thwarted, until local investigator Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (the excellent Ashraf Barhom) intervenes on their behalf and doors suddenly start opening.
While Peter Berg’s movie shares some of edgy, paranoid tone of Paul Greengrass’s Bournes, it owes its biggest debt to Michael Mann, certainly in terms of its style and substance. One of the film's producers, Mann’s name has been heavily trumpeted on all the advertising which has pitched this as a hi-octane, slambang actioneer. Certainly that’s part of its cinematic DNA, but The Kingdom really wants is to be taken seriously, and flexes its political and ideological muscles right from the start with a stellar opening credit sequence that offers a rapid run-down on the history of the region and its importance to the West. But Syriana this ain’t, and about two-thirds of the way through, the film mutates into Black Hawk Down (not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily), with Foxx and co dodging bullets and rocket launchers on a Saudi backstreet, before heading inside an apartment building for some vicious hand-to-hand combat and bloody retribution. Loud, explosive and faintly ridiculous, it’s also expertly staged and unapologetically patriotic. (The sight of Garner kicking butt brings back fond memories of Alias, even if Sydney Bristow never had to resort to knifing a baddie in the skull.) Foxx, Cooper, Garner and Bateman all do solid work, although you can’t shake the feeling they’re treading water, and the less said about the jingoistic ending — which has all four Americans survive while the locals get it — the better.