Sunday, December 02, 2007


RUNTIME: 110 min.

Remember that participant in your school/ college debate competition whose only point was to shout at the top of his voice. He would bang his fists on the rostrum and his arms would fly all over the place, all the time scarcely making a single point. A poor excuse for eloquence, he would still be interesting for he would bring a smile on us, occasionally making us laugh at his way over the top antics. The Kingdom is exactly that, the kind of film that sees the need to introduce Chris Cooper’s character by showing his name underlined by a flashy “Bomb expert” which might as well be the name of a motel; it doesn’t remotely matter if Cooper is reciting his lines in terms of C-4s and Syntex. A film that is so confident in its blissful ignorance that it pointless to criticize it.
Here is a B-grade gung-ho action film that is more along the lines of a Delta Force, a badly made visually incoherent installment I might add, and when it holds aspirations of making a statement it is better to sit back and laugh at it. I was all game for the unintentional laughs but the film is so dull it wouldn’t even give me one. The Kingdom uses the terrorism-jihad-middle east trump card to set a scenario where four super agents of the FBI land in Saudi Arabia to track down a terrorist cell responsible for bombing out a pro-US base.
Let me reiterate, it is futile to debate the film. It would be as pointless as arguing with barking dogs by barking back at them. And I mean no offence to dogs, none in the least. What I found particularly offensive is that the film didn’t even care to let me enjoy my 100 bucks worth of explosions. As critical I’m of my favorite punching bag (other than the one hanging in my kitchen) Michael Bay, I still immensely enjoy his nonsense. Bay at least has a fantastic talent of presenting nonsense; this film doesn’t even have the courtesy to blow up things in a presentable manner. I simply cannot understand the need of modern Hollywood films to shake the camera incessantly. Once again the twin dragons, shaky camera and faster-than-a-speeding-bullet editing, make the proceedings virtually incomprehensible. The cinematographer, the person I hold responsible for my headache, is Mauro Fiore. Remember those awful Stallone films which went by the name of Driven and Get Carter? Well, Fiore was part of the guilty party there too. Why, in the name of God, does he need to shake the camera? And why in the name of all heavens does the editing have to be so predictably fast, the cuts running doubly faster than the blink of an eye. Is the sense of a stable image lost in the land? Is it some holy writ to use the scissor and change the angle every second? The masters of this technique – Christopher Nolan, Paul Greengrass, Fernando Meirelless, Steven Soderbergh – know how to use it sparingly and are deadly effective. Here, it feels as if they have just laid their hands on a camera and just cannot stop being amused by this funny thing that captures images. Fiore is working on James Cameron’s next mega-project Avatar; I guess that ought to do a lot of good to him. As for Peter Berg, the director, it is pretty apparent that he is still under transition from an actor (Lions for Lambs, Collateral) to a director. Long way to go mate, long is that way. I had expressed great disappointment in Carnahan’s script for Lions for Lambs; here his work had roots for a nice little genre film. Alas, that dreaded epileptic camera. Show some light lord.
The performances aren’t much to bother about; Jamie Foxx has been part of an ensemble torture before which flew past us by the name of Stealth. He and Cooper and for that matter everyone, and that includes the guy assisting Cooper pumping the water out of the trench, are good. It is just that they barely manage to register one stable image on us, courtesy again the camerawork.

Many people are calling this the anti-Syriana. Of course, it is anti-Syriana. In fact, it could explode the very foundations on which films as Syriana stand on i.e. sense. I recently read an article that was basically looking into the failure of Middle-east films at the box office. It is a no-brainer, audiences aren’t foolish to pay for something that not only insults their intelligence but doesn’t even care to respect their monetary contribution for its survival. As for its arguments, all I would say is one thing. If this is the pro-war argument one could muster, I wouldn’t be worried too much about the opposing camp. In fact, I would laugh out loud, as its argument plays out like the very clich├ęd Jehadi rhetoric it so much hopes to criticize.

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