Friday, October 05, 2007

The Kingdom, or On The Wonderful Cinematic Legacy Of Oliver North

In the first ten minutes of The Kingdom, Islamic fundamentalists have mowed down a crowd of civilians, a suicide bomber has killed several dozen people, and a rave-visual title sequence has turned 9/11 into a Nike commercial. The credits say Michael Mann, but this is what would happen if Syriana had been produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

The Kingdom’s director, Peter Berg, is on an oft-stated mission to do for action what Roth, Rodriguez and co did for horror: taking it back the old school while keeping the slick film-literacy appreciated by today’s cinephiles. And The Kingdom is the most shit-kicking throwback to Reagan-era Big Loud Action Movies since 300. This is a movie where the heroes are loose cannons, the stuffed-shirt bureaucrats just don’t fucking get it, and the villains, nasty foreigners all, get blowed up real good.

But it turns out if you want a climate where gung-ho, shamelessly bloody action movies get made, all you need is to stoke global politics to a powder-keg of heavily-armed strife. Action pictures haven’t been this beer-and-red-meat since the days of Golan-Globus, John Milius and Oliver North.

So, yes: for all its Mann/Foxx/Cooper pedigrees, The Kingdom is fundamentally pretty dumb, in a lovable-jock kinda way. However, it nonetheless entertains pleasant notions of political awareness: besides the obligatory Sympathetic Arabs, the plot is far from asinine and the ending coda surprisingly poignant. It strains to have more – an intellect, a conscience – but that straining is a dull murmur beneath all the painstakingly-detailed gunfire and explosions.

And yet, in the hands of Mann and Berg, the seemingly impossible occurs, and the big explosions and quaint ideological wrangling seldom get in each others’ way. And for all its adherence to the action-thriller rules of engagement – some scenes could be shot-for-shot from the Jack Ryan movies – there’s surprisingly little in the way of firmly-entrenched cliché.

Complex political ambiguities – fuck yeah!

[originally appeared at Flicks]

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