Thanks to the generally pro-Britain approach of the United States in the early years of the Second World War, Hollywood began producing movies about the war long before America even entered the conflict – all staunchly pro-Allies. It wasn’t until the mid 1960s that any Second World War films began to emerge that were even vaguely critical of any Allied soldiers, or that dared to suggest that, well, maybe it wasn’t quite as simple as “all Germans and Japanese are evil” as the movies seemed to make out. When it came to Vietnam, an altogether different and far less popular affair, it still wasn’t really until the end of the 1970s, a few years after the war’s end, that the likes of Apocalypse Now began to really analyse the conflict.
When it comes to the current war on terror, kicked off almost exactly six years ago with the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and still ongoing with no end in sight, it took five years before Hollywood dared approach the subject with last year’s somewhat overly uncritical World Trade Center and United 93 – and even the imminent Angelina Jolie-starring A Mighty Heart. Now, however, just one year on – and with soldiers still being sent home in body bags almost daily – the critical war on terror films have begun to emerge.
The Kingdom is one of the first of this new wave of new-style war on terror movies to get a release, but it is by no means the last. It is also quite unusual in that where the rest of the new genre of post-9/11 films due out over the next year or so seem to be following the pattern of the early Vietnam War films, like the low-key first Rambo movie or The Deer Hunter, and focussing on the psychological impact of the war on those caught up in it, The Kingdom is instead rather more action-heavy.
Revolving around a crack team of US special agents led by Jamie Foxx, rather than take the more restrained, philosophical approach of the early Vietnam movies, The Kingdom has opted more for the mid-1980s approach of the later Rambo flicks, even the Chuck Norris Delta Force movies – all guns and glory, with a bit of politics chucked in. With the good-looking central team of Foxx, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman (plus the rugged features of the excellent Chris Cooper for authenticity’s sake) journeying out to Saudi Arabia to hunt down a terrorist cell, this could easily seem like full-on Hollywood glamour in a fairly standard action thriller, with middle eastern terrorists merely taking the role of the standard bad guy.
Of course, there is a moderate amount of politics chucked in – it would be hard not to have some commentary on the current situation in the absolutist Saudi state in such a movie, after all – and the faux-documentary style of shooting lifted from the likes of Black Hawk Down and the Bourne films lends an air of realism not usually seen in old-style Hollywood actioners. But this is a far less nuanced beast than any of the other critical war on terror films due to hit our screens in the next few months. This is terrorism as entertainment – kidnappings and apartment bombings done for spectacle, not for shock.
As such, this is likely to be seen as a bit of an oddity in years to come. It’s the kind of movie you’d expect to be produced after the war is over, not while it’s still being fought. Which is not to say that it’s bad by any means – looking at it simply as an action movie it’s perfectly fun and engaging, and a good example of the genre. But some may find it a little callous to treat the horror of terrorist attacks and the insanely difficult task of countering the ongoing terrorist threat in such a blasé, “look, aren’t the explosions cool?” kind of a way while so many people are still facing this for real on a daily basis.