The Kingdom: Arabian Spinach

Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Peter Berg
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, Ashraf Barhoum
(R, 110 min.)

"There are no compacts between lions and men, and wolves and lambs have no concord." Homer

Finally, a political thriller that does it. Nails our real enemies, instead of the usual Hollywood villains -- those insipid, unimaginative, politically correct stereotypes guaranteed not to offend.

You know whom I’m talking about. Take, for instance, the Neo-Nazis that replaced Muslim extremists in the film version of Tom Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears. Now that was a safe bet! I mean even the Germans are officially anti-Nazi now. Or perhaps the favorite Hollywood composite -- the white southern ex-military lunatic with evangelical leanings featured in last year’s Deja Vu, as well as that overly praised concoction of post modern drivel, American Beauty.

No, Director Peter Berg’s The Kingdom is not afraid to offend. In fact, it offends both sides of the political spectrum, the left calling it jingoistic, and some on the right thinking it paints the Saudis a bit too sympathetically. To me, that means that this is a fairly balanced film in the John Wayne, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, macho tradition.

Except, perhaps our most macho hero here is Jennifer Garner’s Janet Mayes, part of an elite team of FBI agents sent to the Saudi Kingdom to find the terrorists responsible for a deadly bombing inside a Western housing compound there.

Berg’s camera doesn’t blink in capturing the brutality of the bombing, nor its cold-blooded treachery. It starts out badly enough: an idyllic game of baseball overflowing with kids, the intrusion of two terrorists wearing Saudi uniforms who mow down as many innocents as they can. You see the death up close and personal, but even that isn’t quite as evil as the next part of the intricate plan. Another man, also dressed as a Saudi policeman, tells all to follow him to safety, igniting his suicide vest when he corrals a large enough crowd.

But the most diabolical part is yet to come -- the arrival of first responders to treat those still clinging to life, and the massive blast that awaits them, reducing the compound to rubble, with a death toll in the hundreds.

This bloody reality is a bit too much for most Hollywood moguls, who would rather content themselves with films that concentrate on the rare incidents of American transgressions and shun the depiction of savagery wielded upon us. Even the news outlets shy away from broadcasting the twin towers footage now, insisting that it is too traumatic.

But oddly enough, it is not the compound’s bloodbath that is most disturbing, but another scene of quiet and calm. It starts with a close up of a sewing machine in a stifling apartment, a woman sweating over it. Then it pans to children carefully scooping marbles and nails into the lining of the vest she has just stitched.

Equally unsettling are the bureaucrats from both countries who try to stifle the FBI investigation. Only by threatening to release a damaging news story does team head Ron Fleury (Jamie Foxx) get the Saudis and Americans to allow a secret five day on site investigation. And even then, their hands are tied. They can walk through the crime scene but touch nothing. 

Instead they are asked to a dinner party at the palace of the local prince – we find out that there are some 5000 or so of them in the kingdom, some with even bigger castles. The affable young prince shows off his pet falcon and offers to take them on a safari. Whether he is really that out of touch with reality or whether it is merely a ploy, we do not know, but a feisty Fleury is having none of it, and with both determination and diplomacy, he wins a few concessions for their investigation.

The film is a testament to some shrewd crime scene analysis, (some have derided it as CSI: Riyadh) and the perfection of that Hollywood art form, the car-chase/explosion/mega power shootout. Are the political trappings there just as backdrop for yet another tale of violence and vengeance, as in the recent The Brave One, and 3:10 to Yuma?

I think there is more here. By time warping to an 80’s style New York City with rampant street crime, or doing a remake of a 1957 Western, these two other films are tapping into a sort of collective unconscious that senses the presence of evil and wishes to lash out against it, thus the somewhat anachronistic projections.

But The Kingdom confronts this evil straight on and sees its annihilation as a painful necessity. Whether or not you on are board with that necessity, it is nonetheless, thrilling cinema.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

One of the film’s nicer touches is the respect and friendship that gradually grow between Jamie Foxx and the Saudi policeman sent to be his minder/babysitter. In the way that shared danger forges close bonds, the two become fast friends.

While they are too busy finding the bad guys to spend any time just hanging out or breaking bread together, I’m sure the American FBI agent would have loved sharing this Arabian Spinach with his Saudi colleague.

You’ll love this fresh and tasty dish. In my opinion there’s nothing better than fresh sautéed spinach, and it’s good for you too.

Arabian Spinach

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 1/2 cups fresh spinach, washed and shredded
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 
  • 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon butter 
  • salt and pepper 

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion for about 5 minutes until softened.
  2. Add the garlic and cumin seeds, then fry for another minute.
  3. Add the spinach, in stages, stirring until the leaves begin to wilt.
  4. Stir in the chickpeas, butter and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Reheat until just bubbling, then serve hot.

Recipe Source: Recipezaar.com