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Hatred's Kingdom:
How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism
by Dore Gold
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "The Kingdom"

A premise that brings American style detective work to a middle east context is dangerous to start out with. It not only has the audacity to represent what civil life is like in Saudi Arabia, but mixes it up with police and military agencies and how they operate in a culture totally alien to our own. This is uncharted territory for a writer, and for director Peter Berg ("Friday Night Lights") to take on, despite the headline immediacy of it, and a good action cast. The big question it begs from the start is whether it can be made credible enough to work as something more than an action ride for Jamie Foxx. In the end, this smart team walks a brittle tightrope and pulls the mission off.

Not that the super-slick dialogue is entirely understandable, but the attempt to make our guys hip and cool through slick dialogue of the shorhand variety doesn't defeat the enterprise nor disallow you to get the gist. The following things are clear:

The State Department is politically hamstrung by Saudi Arabia's approach to justice, generally walking a tightrope of politics and reality. But when a terrorist cell, with planning, demolition resources, and minds of the lowest form of mankind sets off two thunderous blasts at a Riyadh picnic sponsored by an American oil company, wiping out families with children and a peaceful ball game, the act smarts enough to change a few rules of conduct.

The second of the blasts, timed to occur when the rescue teams were doing their work on the field of attack, kills an FBI agent who happens to be the romantic interest of agent Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner). She's on board to chase the culprits down with good old western ingenuity and determination for payback.

The man in charge of the unit that goes on the special mission is agent Ronald Fleury (Foxx), followed by Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman). With hard-won agreements reached, they arrive and meet up with their Saudi minders, led by Col. Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom).

In the context of mixed political agendas, and a grossly naive local ruler, boyish Prince Thamer (Raad Raawi) of the royal family, Fleury and team quickly discover that no real investigation is in progress. It is, therefore, a surprise to discover that Faris, though beholden to his superiors and their general lack of motivation to get anywhere close to the terrorists, is on the side of justice, reveling in the opportunity to participate in a real investigation and to track down the terrorist leader, Abu Hamsa.

With his support and combat mettle, not only is an FBI style investigation permitted to proceed, but a strong bond of warrior's mutual respect and affection is formed between Faris and Fleury, one of the strong points of the story.

It may be utterly incomprehensible to include a woman in the male-club mission in a country that is so hostile to feminine freedom; and when it's such a well-endowed one as Jennifer Garner, one is tipped off that this is more marquee value packaging than an attempt at verisimilitude. However, that said, it is interesting that she is not portrayed here as "Electra." Her participation, in fact, is somewhat subdued. But, as anyone who hasn't seen the film yet will be glad to hear, she definitely gets her revenge, credibly and painfully, with a deepfelt =ouch=.

Any hope that Foxx would use the occasion to broaden his standard portrayal beyond the smug superiority of "Ray," for example, is unfulfilled. The standard Foxx persona does, however, work for the role. In other parts, Barhom is a standout and Piven accounts for himself interestingly with the American good guys.

The storyline by debuting screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan, weaves its way through bombings, ambushes, beaurocratic minefields, and clues, sticking to the gathering of evidence and the integrity of going where it leads. It covers all the bases, re-creating a semblance of what might be expected in tracking down a well-established and fully protected terrorist cell on their home grounds.

Tech credits are up to the task, featuring a supporting score by Danny Elfman with a broad tonal range to supplement the atmospherics, and the sharp visual tonalities by cinematographer Mauro Fiore that enhances the closeups as well as the explosive action staged in Abu Dhabi standing in for Riyadh, and in the desert sweeps of Arizona.

The notable reward for fans of action fare are the crime-busting satisfactions that arise from the fantasy elements of the premise and what we'd like to believe four FBI agents could possibly achieve in the hostile circumstances. We just have to remember that worse cases of bending the fictional tree has worked just fine in less politically audacious concepts. We judge this as a movie, as far removed from the world of possibility as Riyadh is from Washington. That in mind, adventurism in realpolitik becomes secondary to dramatic content, and the story winds up as a realized commercial prospect.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Jennifer Garner, Ashraf Barhom, Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper.
Battling terrorists on their home ground.

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