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Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Local opening date: 9/28/207
Reviewed by Diane Carson
Political dramas risk alienating segments of their potential audience if they advocate a specific point of view. So Hollywood has honed the fine art of throwing bits and pieces to diverse positions, hoping ticket buyers will dismiss what grates on the nerves and embrace what reinforces their position. That seems to be the hope for director Peter Berg's The Kingdom, a gratuitous exploitation of anti-Saudi Arabia sentiment and the sharp fear of terrorism. Since we can't dominate on the ground, let's win in the movies.

And yet-- The Kingdom's haunting, lasting message is that revenge leads to revenge, and retaliation begets retaliation and it will never end. But before this poignant reminder arrives, The Kingdom will exploit violent payback fantasies and reinforce Americans as the smartest, toughest, greatest combatants. Here's the scenario.

The Kingdom begins with a horrendous massacre of American families stationed in Riyadh, enjoying themselves at a picnic, playing softball-so perfectly iconic a scene, so heartless an attack, so familiar from Iraqi news footage. But this time, it's in Saudi Arabia and perpetrated against us with a Saudi terrorist watching the attack from a distant building with a young boy. This is a parallel to Washington based FBI team head Ronald Fluery (Jamie Foxx) who has a great, loving relationship with his son. With a friend killed in the explosions, Fluery adamantly insists on and leads a crack investigative team, played well by Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman. They WILL find the perpetrators and make them pay. .

On the Saudi side, there are a few sympathetic men who fight alongside the Americans. But as the plot develops, Americans target the Saudis with snide remarks and numerous insults; for example, "Clues can be very useful in solving crime," the Americans note to the Arabs. And, just as in every action genre from westerns to the many wars idealized in films, the Americans shoot better and straighter and kill many more in action packed sequences. Equally to the point, the packed audience with whom I saw the film cheered out loud several times for Saudis to be killed, for a catharsis of more blood letting. So goes the plea for peace and The Kingdom's disingenuous tag that the vicious circle leads only to more death. The Kingdom fans the flames of frustration and pain, gives a four minute history lesson through the opening titles, and reinforces negative stereotypes while offering no complex insight into the politics that got us here in the first place. What a lost opportunity; what a waste of big money. At area theatres.

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