3 Stars – Thought Provoking
H. L. Mencken, the articulate American newspaperman from the mid-20th century, once said, “For every human condition, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” There is no place where this assessment is more accurate than when applied to the solutions being given for bringing peace to the Middle East.
“The Kingdom” is a sobering look at the tension that exists in Saudi Arabia during the current conflict in Iraq. Most westerners think of Saudi Arabia as a monolithic culture controlled by strict religious and social practices. Even if this might be true, the country is plagued with “hardliners” who want to remove the presence of western influence, and are willing to take the law into their own hands to do so. Osama Bin Laden, by example, has made it clear that his primary focus is not on destroying America. His real interest is to destabilize the Saudi government and restore a “true Muslim theocracy.”
“The Kingdom” story opens with a community baseball game occuring within the American compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Without warning, a series of terrorists open fire on the men, women, and children who are playing in the park. The devious purpose behind the attack was to get the panicking parents and children to run towards the compound hospital, and then to explode a huge vehicular bomb and kill hundreds of innocent civilians as well as a smattering of Saudi Police. The plot worked well, and the losses are staggering.
Back at the FBI in Washington DC, Special Agents Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman) struggle with their superiors because the Saudi government wants to solve this case without American help. Ultimately, through diplomatic channels, these four agents request five days to assist the Saudi police in their investigation. The police in Riyadh view the arrival of these Americans with deep suspicion and even though they achieve some success, the danger they face is extreme.
What unfolds in this tense story is a heart-pounding tale of hatred with some degree of respect between the Americans and Saudis on the front lines of war. Any images of Arabia being a place free from the horrors of war are shattered. This might as well be downtown Baghdad. The humanizing element of the story comes in the relationship that the Americans share with Saudi Colonel Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum), assigned to protect them. Their common humanity comes to the surface when they get to know him and his son personally.
The moral questions raised in the film are threefold: What should our physical, emotional, and spiritual response be to terrorism in the world? What can one individual do to make a difference? Finally, what message does our response teach our children? There are answers to all three questions in the film, but not necessarily answers with which we are comfortable.
Fighters on both sides of the conflict share the same words of encouragement: “We will destroy them.” The ultimate question remains: will anyone be left standing when the fighting stops? It is too simplistic to say that this is a fight between “good” and “evil.” In the end, each person has to decide, whether or not, they want to become instruments of grace.
- The suggestion that the battle between the various groups of people in the Middle East has little to do with America is a strong statement. Do you agree or disagree? Why do you answer as you do?
- The common humanity we share with everyone is often misunderstood when we use political and social labels. What do you believe would happen if we stopped describing ourselves by our religious or political descriptors?
- It has been said that until we love our enemies we will forever be fighting them. Do you think love of an enemy is possible? What would it take to truly accomplish such a social and spiritual feat?