The Kingdom

Frank Connor/Universal Pictures

Review in a Hurry:  Things go from bad to worse when an FBI investigative team hits Saudi soil after a vicious attack on an American housing compound. Breathless action sequences are balanced with a sensitive interpretation of the political and cultural gray areas of (Mid)East-West relations.

The Bigger Picture:  Oil-company employees and their families are enjoying softball and barbecue in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, when that sunny day is torn apart by brutality—an attack where both bullets and bombs fly. The United States is aflame with anger, but only FBI Special Agent Fleury (Jamie Foxx) and his colleagues are rarin' to head over and kick some terrorist butt.

The team of four—Fleury, bomb expert Sykes (Chris Cooper), forensics pro Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), and wiseacre/techie Leavitt (Jason Bateman)—sneakily secure five days' time to investigate the attack under the watch of the Saudis. Babysitting the crew is a Saudi cop, Col. Faris Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), and there is no love lost between him and the agents. As the very tense chain of events unfolds, however, both sides realize they are after the same thing—justice.

Much sappy sentimentality could ensue, but director Peter Berg, who made even high school football seem life or death in Friday Night Lights, injects intensity into every shot with his handheld camera and varying degrees of focus. These aren't film-school tropes done purely for showing off; every shot has meaning and every cut makes sense. Even the most complicated action scenes here make geographical sense without sacrificing aesthetics.

The two standout set pieces in The Kingdom—a freeway explosion and a massive gunfight—are visceral, heart-pounding and stomach-knot-inducing. They also serve as elegant visually highlight tours of the great political divide of our time, and Berg reminds us with every shot that even if we catch the bad guys, we never really prevail.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  The Kingdom occasionally veers into big dumb action-movie territory, which may turn off those people who like their politics without a sprinkling of snarky humor and spectacular visual effects. But those people aren't any fun, are they?

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