Thursday, November 29, 2007

Terrorism is a pretty sensitive subject for a movie, especially one that tries to reflect our present reality as closely as possible. In "The Kingdom", terrorists create a bloodbath at a family picnic for expatriates in Riyadh. The attack is coordinated with cold, calculated precision to maximize the body count of civillian men, women and children, as well as security personnel and emergency response crew.

In the attack, we the audience see the confusion and feel the panic of the crowd. We watch in horror as a man is gunned down while attempting to reach his stricken child. We are helpless as a security guard lures people to him with promises of safety, then detonates himself in the crowd. When the gunmen's vehicle gets rammed by a genuine police vehicle and they crawl out of the wreckage bleeding, there is a sense of relief that the carnage has been stopped, and when they get shot because they refuse to surrender, justice has been served. But that little prepares us for the next attack that follows, just when we think that everything's over.

"The Kingdom" puts the camera firmly in the perspective of the "good guys". The maverick FBI team that takes an officially unauthorized trip to Riyadh face innumerable political, linguistic, procedural and cultural obstacles as they investigate the attack with one of their own numbering among the dead. The team's liaison (aka babysitter), a dedicated, competent and resourceful Saudi police officer is likewise hampered by his own superior officer who is little more than an idiot and a brute. When they come under attack by the same terrorists, outnumbered and outgunned, we celebrate each time another terrorist gets taken out and the team comes closer to rescuing their kidnapped team member, and uncovering the mastermind of the operation.

The team has our sympathies as well because we get a glimpse of their families and feel their comradeship with one another while they are off duty. As for the terrorists, they are mostly anonymous; just another psycho raghead popping up to be cannon fodder or punching bag who deserves what he gets.

By skewing the view, the movie goes beyond the simple narrative and pushes us into an emotional response and shows us the motivation behind this cycle of violence. It isn't political, religious or poverty-related. It simply is the desire for revenge. One side can never view the situation from the other perspective. On "our" side, we see fathers getting killed, children murdered, innocents blown up. But in the climactic battle scene, a grandfather is killed, a brother shot, and we realize why a little boy's eyes glint with such malice in the aftermath. It never ends as long as the solution appears as a zero-sum game.

The movie wasn't as political as I had initially expected. The pacing is quick and exciting, with lots of gunplay and explosions to pass off as an action movie. At times, it almost feels like Counter-strike. Because of the pacing, the resolution becomes too convenient; they get the guy they're looking for, case-closed. Things are seldom so simple in reality.

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