AS WITH all past conflicts in which the United States found itself involved militarily, it was only a matter of time for Hollywood to become drawn in to the war on terrorism. That is, of course, the war as seen through the eyes of Tinsel Town directors and producers which is about as far removed from reality as Baghdad is from Rodeo Drive. But there are exceptions.
"The Kingdom" director Peter Berg is one of those exceptions. Berg's "Kingdom" offers us realism not only through the detailed depiction of the red tape and bureaucratic hurdles which US Federal agents working in Washington and Saudi Arabia must put up with, but he captures the mood, the nuances and somewhat rare for most Hollywood productions, "The Kingdom" comes with a rare political message. Make that two political messages. Discreet, but nevertheless powerful.
"The Kingdom" combines a fictitious story about FBI agents ignoring State Department directives and bullying their way into Saudi Arabia to investigate a terrorist attack that killed more than 100 Americans, including two of their own. Yet the story is woven around a multitude of real incidents which unfolded in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the last several years, since al-Qaida launched a terror campaign targeting the Saudi monarchy and foreigners.
Set in Washington and Saudi Arabia, and filmed on location in Washington and Abu Dhabi, although the movie still fits the typical Hollywood mold, as expected, giving America its morale boosting victory. Quite naturally when Hollywood takes on the bad guys their chances of success are practically nil. In Tinsel Town, whose primary function, after all, is to sell dreams, the good guys get to accomplish on screen with relative ease the unimaginable in real life.
For the generations too young to remember such films produced during World War II, they need only look to the 1970s, the post-Vietnam era, which gave us the interminable "Rambo" series featuring Sylvester Stallone as a returning Vietnam veteran having a hard time adapting back in the "real world."
A similar pattern emerged a decade later when Americans were kidnapped and held hostage in Lebanon. This time it was the Chuck Norris series, of which there were probably as many as the Rambo films. Instead of fighting the US army in the Pacific Northwest, or the Soviets in Afghanistan, Norris using his martial arts and backed up by a team of unbeatable Navy SEALS, fought his way into and out of Beirut, gaining along the way the release of American hostages.
Fast-forward to the present with a slightly more realistic scenario. Still, despite major difference between fiction and reality, Berg's newly released "The Kingdom," allows a little respite from the realities in fighting the war on terrorism.
"The Kingdom," tries, and I think succeeds, in sending two important political messages to anyone who would listen. The first message is quite pertinent for officials in Washington, and one they would do well to heed. I'm not giving the plot away, but it's when the FBI director lectures a Senate official who simply doesn't want to make waves. The Director tells the member of a Senate oversight committee that he does his job without worrying about losing it, because in life everything is temporary, including his job. Sound advice for any Washington official who may want to place the public's interest ahead of his own political ambitions.
Watch and listen carefully because the other message comes in the two final scenes and they last just a couple of seconds each. Now a word of caution: If you plan on seeing the movie stop reading here.
The second political message in "The Kingdom" is this: both sides believe they can win by killing everybody on the other side. Sadly realistic of our time.
*Published in the UAE's KHALEEJ TIMES on October 12, 2007. Claude Salhani is Editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst in Washington, DC.