A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. But that's the only hint of Mary Poppins you'll find in Peter Berg's geopolitical thriller, with an emphasis on the thrills. The sugar for Berg, a genuine wild man, is action, and he heaps it on as FBI special agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx at his cool, mofo best) leads his team into Saudi Arabia to find the culprits behind a terrorist attack on a compound housing American oil-company employees and their families. The Saudi ambassador has given them only five days to investigate, and a U.S. diplomat (Jeremy Piven) would rather they just do a photo op and slink out. But Fleury is not one for slinking. With the help of an explosives expert (a forceful Chris Cooper), an intelligence analyst (Jason Bateman, nailing all of his smart-mouthed one-liners) and a forensics whiz (Jennifer Garner, never mind the sexy, she means business), Fleury goes John Wayne on their ass. Berg (Friday Night Lights) stages every ambush, gun battle and car chase as if his life depends on it. The Kingdom could have been a jingoistic CSI: Riyadh, and sometimes it is. Matthew Michael Carnahan's caffeinated script isn't much concerned with balance, but it gets some anyway, from the resonant images of culture clash that Berg catches on the fly and a remarkable performance from Ashraf Barhom, whose ravaged, sorrowful face as the Saudi police chief Al-Ghazi is a human map of the complex issues at stake.
From The Archives Issue 399: July 7, 1983