Kingdom, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe takes a belated look at this Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner political thriller
FBI special agent and loving family man Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) leads an elite team into Saudi Arabia to find the terrorists who attacked American employees working in the Middle East, including one of his best friends. Fleury and his team, including forensics expert Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), explosives guru Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), and intelligence analyst Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), are now in hostile territory, and are given a five day deadline. Their only real assistance comes from their Saudi liaison, Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), who proves a valuable ally in the war ahead.
To call The Kingdom a generic political thriller would be a bit unfair of me, but it’s not the same as calling it a bad political thriller. The Kingdom is kind of generic, with its current events espionage, its ever roving camera, its deathly serious tone, its ‘stuff blowing up’ scenes. It’s actually very much like a Paul Greengrass/Ridley Scott inspired Jack Ryan movie, only Jack Ryan (Jason Bateman’s character) isn’t really the lead protagonist, Mr. Serious FBI Guy is (Jamie Foxx’s character). There is more to it than that, of course, but as far as memorability goes, that’s how it’s gonna go down for most viewers.
The script is a standard model, with some less than successful character moments (though there’s a nice nighttime ritual montage smack in the middle of the film), but the mystery solving bits are above average. For his part director Peter Berg keeps the pacing expeditious and tight (minus one really bad cut-away during the opening). There is a thick sense of tenseness throughout the film that loosens a bit (ironically enough) when the threat becomes more tangible. Berg is careful enough to avoid too much heavy handed patriotism, and also plays it safe with the Saudi stereotypes, which is preferable, but prevents that gut tickling reaction broad war movies sometimes ensure. The hands get a little heavier at the very end when the film’s moral rears its little head. Still, it all feels pretty authentic, at least until the show stopping later third where people start shooting and throwing grenades at each other.
As Berg’s style has developed throughout his films, it has become very assured and exciting, but it’s really starting to look a little too much like another Tony and Ridley Scott clone. A lot about The Kingdom looks a lot like Black Hawk Down. He’s also started over-cutting his action, something he deftly avoided with his underrated action comedy The Rundown. Still, Berg is a solid storyteller, and his skills, along with some good actors, inevitably overcomes what amounts to a pretty average script.
Director Peter Berg and his DP Mauro Fiore mostly aim for a hyper-realistic look, which ends up being a nice workout for the Blu-ray’s hi-def abilities. The lighting is often dulled, or entirely source based, so the transfer can’t hide behind stylized colours, or high contrast light and dark play. Indoor and nighttime sequences aren’t going to impress most giant TV owners, but the general lack of grain and noise is pretty impressive. Details aren’t mind blowing, but surely sharper than standard definition. The daytime scenes are beautifully bright and blown-out, featuring sharper details, and some cool Scott-esque high contrast black bits floating about. Still, the look is very realist, and even the daylight scenes are duller in colour than many of us may have come to expect from the format.
The Kingdom sounds fantastic in 5.1 channels of DTS-HD Master Audio goodness. The surround channel extras get a little bit silly with filler, but post-bombing there would be a lot of construction noise, and it’s reasonably realistic. Through all the noise of life (which is quite immersive, don’t get me wrong) the dialogue track is consistently understandable, without losing a realistic volume in the mix. The movie’s big car chase and guns action scene is pretty much reference level stuff. The guns all have their own special sound, locations of carnage is never in question (audibly at least), and the explosions burst with bassy goodness. Danny Elfman’s score is atrociously mawkish, and sounds as if it were made-for-TV on a budget. It may be the worst score in the composer’s entire collection.
We begin with Peter Berg’s commentary track. Berg isn’t a rapid fire speaker, but he chooses his words well, and his thoughts on the film are generally intriguing, so long as he’s not just talking about how great his cast and crew are. Berg addresses some of his critics with grace, and makes some good suggestions for further viewing, including a mention of Hany Abu-Assad’s incendiary Paradise Now. The director runs out of steam pretty early, but overall it’s a solid track.
The Universal U-Control options are mostly unwatchable on my Profile 1.0 player, including the PiP option and the ‘Mission Dossier: Surveillance’ option. Fortunately, the ‘Surveillance’ option shows up elsewhere on the disc. The standard Mission Dossier is a text based option that states both pointless facts about the in-film mission, and interesting facts about the real Saudi Arabia. The ‘Character by Character’ option during the shoot-out allows the viewer to watch the entire scene, unedited, from four different points of view.
Next up is a selection of deleted scenes, presented in hi-def video, but stereo sound. There is unfortunately no menu option for the scenes, they play as a reel. Fortunately the reel is divided into chapters. Most of the scenes would be better described as extended rather than deleted, and total about eleven minutes.
‘Constructing the Freeway Sequence’ is a hi-def look at the films biggest action scene. The featurette is made up of interview footage on and off the set, a computer generated pre-viz, a toy car test, footage of a cheaper cars being destroyed as tests, behind the scenes footage, and, of course, footage from the final scene. The whole thing runs about 18 minutes.
‘Creating the Kingdom’ is an eight part featurette, with a nice ‘play all’ option sitting at the top of the menu. The doc mostly consists of on-set, and post film interviews, but it also runs down the early stages of pre-production. The raw set footage is well cut with the final product footage, and all in all the doc has good pace when watched in a clump. As an ex-Arizonian it’s fun to recall landmarks from around the sets during the set production section. In all the featurettes run about thirty-five minutes.
‘History of The Kingdom’ is an interactive timeline option, running the history of modern Saudi Arabia all the way back to 1932. This starts as a mostly text based extra, but there is news footage included later in the timeline. Here viewers will find some valuable information about one of the most interesting and volatile international relationships in American history.
The disc finishes out with the ‘Mission Dossier: Surveillance’ option I couldn’t get to work during U-Control. Surprisingly no trailers can be found anywhere on the disc.
Despite some exceedingly generic trailers The Kingdom manages to satisfy most of my political thriller needs, and I regret not seeing it earlier. It’s not a memorable movie, but it’s quite entertaining, and actor turned director Peter Berg continues proving his talents, even if his imagery is a bit on the cribbed side this time around. The Blu-ray disc meets expectations on an audio/visual level, and even features a few fun extras not found on the original DVD release.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 25th November 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Extras: Director Commentary, U-Control Options, Deteleted Scenes, 'Constructing the Freeway Sequence', 'Creating the Kingdom', 'History of the Kingdom', 'Mission Dossier: Surveillance'
Easter Egg: No
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhom
Genre: Action and Thriller
Length: 110 minutes