Sunday, January 13, 2008

REVIEW: Justice? Or Just Us?

The Kingdom
Just Watched:
The Kingdom

My Rating:
3½ Stars

Screen Writer Matthew Michael Carnahan is beginning to make a name for himself in Hollywood for his Islamo-Political Thriller Screenplays. And this will always have been his breakthrough work. His 2nd, "Lions for Lambs," was released just over two months ago.

The plot of this movie follows a team of FBI investigators who seek to find the assassins behind the shooting & bombing of Americans in a western compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The story is fiction, but according to Wikipedia, "it is inspired by bombings at the Riyadh compound on May 12, 2003 and the Khobar housing complex on June 26, 1996 in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia." I don't quite remember the '03 incident, but I clearly remember the '96 incident which happened soon after the Oklahoma City bombing. And the pictures in the film are quite reminiscent of that specific event.

I found the film very entertaining, and I as well found the ideological journey quite compelling. The carnage & victimization of innocent Americans immediately draws you in. And without revealing too much, there's a moment where your sympathy turns intensely personal. You begin to want justice just as much as the characters in the film want it. Along the way, the film educates the audience about some of the complexities involved in achieving such justice in this foreign land. And by the end of the film, you are left to wonder if justice for such deeds is even possible.

Khobar Towers
There's nothing funny about this. If you watch this film get ready to meet this disaster face to face.
The acting wasn't anything to write home about particularly. The bright spot was Jamie Foxx, who is beginning to rival Denzel as a dominating African-American screen presence. The writers and producers of this film wrote Jen Garner's role to be rather simplistic. In essence, she represents the heart & empathy of humanity in a war-torn setting. Frankly, she's basically the one who has permission to cry. Chris Cooper is the ornery old technician with just enough soul to make you like him. And Jason Bateman is the token smart aleck designed to (1) inject comic relief into the film when we need it and (2) to ratchet up the tension whenever we see him begin to get serious. Jeremy Piven plays his now type-cast fast-talking schmoozer. And Tim McGraw attempts to apparently reprise his white trash role from "Friday Night Lights" (it's really just kind of a bizarre & confusing cameo that utterly distracts from the subject that was at hand at that point in the film). So, basically, other than Foxx, either the acting itself stunk or the writers didn't really care to spend time developing the characters. And to me, characters are the engine that drive the film: it's all about placing REAL humanity in critical situations. These characters weren't real; they were clearly fabricated. Significant docking of points for that in my book.

As for the rest of the production of this film... I can't put my finger on it, but this movie just had a feel of having dumbed down complex issues for an American palate. In the middle of a political & investigative thriller, an action movie breaks out. It's a little bit shoot-'em-up western, a little bit counter-terrorist hostage rescue, and a little bit "Clear And Present Danger" Ambush Scene rip off. The action wasn't woven into the storyline with total seamlessness. In other words, I felt reminded that I was watching a Hollywood creation.

On to themes. For me, one of the major testaments of the film is the heroism of the local nationals who serve their country and live to fight for the cause of freedom & justice for all in the face of unspeakable tyrannical hate. I'm awe of their level of determination. They deserve the highest honors that our world affords. They are true heroes.

And as for the major theme, there is a common line spoken by two different actors at the very end of the film that is intended to speak volumes. Can't tell you what it is, but it goes back to that whole idea of justice. Is there justice? That is, in this life? Or is "justice" really revenge woven into a fairy tale that's spun in order to pacify the masses? That question the central focus of the film, and it's delivered quite well. I wasn't offended as if it was an underhanded attempt to take a slap at the right-wingers in Washington. Although I could understand why some conservatives might receive it that way. If you ask me, though, I would probably find such a reaction to be hyper-sensitive to partisan politics.

All in all, an enjoyable experience. But I'd say Carnahan has a way's to go before he fancies himself as Tom Clancy. 3½ Stars.

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