One of the great parts about being a college student is that we are Hollywood's biggest target. As such, they send do free sneak previews of movies on campus quite often. I was lucky enough to get in and see The Kingdom on Tuesday night. And while they spent most of the time before the movie trying to shove commercialism down our throats (they asked one trivia question: What movie was being released on DVD that day? Answer: Knocked Up. Correct! Come over to the release party at one of the local bars. The unspoken message to everyone under 21: Don't forget your fakes), the movie itself was pretty good.
Most movies of this nature normally send one of two messages: "We're going to kill all of the towel-heads!" or "The US is a horrible, imperialistic nation and should stay away from the Middle East!". The Kingdom did neither. Instead, it starts with a very concise, yet detailed, history of the struggle between fundamentalists within Islam and the West. For the first time ever in a major Hollywood movie, wahhabism was mentioned and emphasized.
Over the course of the movie, Western views of Islam and Arabian culture are confronted as the Arabian characters are developed - religious devotion is demonstrated as some of the main characters go home to say the evening prayers with their families; there is a conversation with a former terrorist who discusses why he left the path of violence; a Saudi prince figures prominently into the story line, and his extravagant life style is well noted; the methods and beliefs of extremism within Islam are explored with disturbing detail.
The movie is very violent - there is no doubt about that. But not in the modern style of violence where you get shot and don't bleed. The fight scenes are very intense, rough, and bloody (it was odd to see Jennifer Garner in an action scene so far removed from those of Alias). For those who didn't deal well with Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan (the content of The Kingdom is somewhere in between the two), keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to see this movie. For those hoping for a typical action movie with constant explosions, chase scenes, and gun fights, don't hold your breath. The film spends a lot of time on character development, investigations, and cutting through red tape. The "R" rating for intense, sustained violence doesn't come in until the last half-hour or so of the movie.
Spoiler Warning: The last words of the movie are going to be disclosed below; don't highlight if you don't want to know. You have been warned.
The main point of the movie is delivered in the last lines. When asked, what two characters said (an FBI agent comforting a colleague over the loss of a friend, and a dying militant comforting his grandson), the answer is eerily similar: Don't worry, we will kill them all. With that in mind, you leave the theatre wondering about both sides' approach to the other. What hope is there for us as a civilization if our answer to the problem is to kill people? For my thoughts on the subject, see an old post (Emergent Qaeda).
In short, this movie is continuing the recent trend of action movies for the thinking man. Like Blood Diamond before it, and a large number of movies to be released in coming months, it brings some hope, but leaves you with more questions than answers, and above all, a feeling of urgency to do something. However, unlike Blood Diamond, the "what to do" is left up to the viewer.
End spoiler warning.