Saturday, March 30, 2013

Movie Review: The Kingdom

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Jennifer Garner (and the other actors)
Cons: Weak story, cardboard characters, horrid camera work
The Bottom Line:
The actors do try
But flaws of movie are big
And they pull it down

My Kingdom for a Steady Cam

There are very few actors who make a movie a must see for me. Jennifer Garner is one of them (even though I have missed a few of her films). So when I had the chance to see a sneak peak of The Kingdom, I went for it. Unfortunately, she wasn't enough to save this movie.

When a terrorist attack takes place in a heavily guarded American compound in Saudi Arabia, Americans are incensed. This is especially true for FBI agent Ronald Fluery (Jamie Foxx). He wants nothing more then to fly over there and personally track down the men responsible.

Since Americans were involved, the FBI is the logical choice to lead the investigation even though it is on foreign soil. Unfortunately, the Saudis aren't interested in American help. Their government doesn't want to look weak in front of their people, so they refuse. At first. But a few well placed connections get Fluery and a team of crime scene investigators sent over there for five days. The team consists of agents Janet Mayers (Jennifer Garner), Adam Leavitt (Justin Bateman), and Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper).

Upon landing, the team soon discovers that getting there was only half the battle. The Saudis aren't willing to let them conduct any kind of investigation. And the American consulate is more concern for the agents' safety then helping them accomplish their mission. Will they be able to cut through the red tape? Can they find the mastermind in just 5 days?

I will admit I was a little wary of seeing this movie because of the subject matter. I wasn't sure if this would be a political hit piece or not. Fortunately, it strives to stay very neutral and present us with a thrilling mystery. The last few minutes do give the film a deeper meaning, however, and are guaranteed to make you stop and think.

The acting was great. I felt like all the actors did a great job. This includes not only the well known American stars but also the actors playing the Saudis. There were some scenes with sub-titles as the Saudis talked to each other in their own language. These scenes never lasted for too long and added to the film.

That's where the good parts end, however.

I seem to be becoming a broken record, but I do not care for the stylistic approach many directors seem to take today where they use nothing but handheld cameras to film a movie. This is another such movie. In only a few scenes is the camera held steady, opting instead for this "realistic" approach. To further add to the problem, there are lots of quick cuts. Some scenes flick back and forth between multiple people, showing us any one of them for only a few seconds. As a result, I found it was way too much work to follow the events of the movie. And there were some times the combination of the two was enough to make me feel sick. The violence didn't do it, but the camera work did.

Add to that, the lack of character development. The best developed character in the film was the Saudi assigned to protect the team. Everyone else was pretty much cardboard characters made to do their part. Not that I'm blaming the actors. I just couldn't follow anyone enough to even care. And the movie was focused more on plot then anything else.

Not that the plot was really that great. I thought the idea of a CSI meets thriller had promise. However, plot points and characters seemed to disappear at random. There is one plot point brought up early on that is never addressed. About half way through the movie, the Saudi general who is leading that country's investigation all but vanishes. He was being set up to be an important character, then he is reduced to background character status. That stuff just leaves me scratching my head.

The movie is rather slow for a thriller. There's lots of political red tape that the team must get through before they even begin to investigate. The action picks up in the last half hour. However, I was so detached from the characters and story by this point, it really didn't grab me like it wanted to.

The movie was great for my Jennifer Garner fix. Other than that, The Kingdom was a real disappointment.

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