Review: The Davinci Code
The Kingdom   (2007)
[PGP] Starring: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Kyle Chandler, Richard Jenkins, Jeremy Piven, Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman
Directed by: Peter Berg
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Michael Mann
The movie's opening scenes--a mini documentary about the recent history of Saudi Arabia--tell us that it wants to be taken seriously and the physics of its violent confrontations and gun fights, though not perfect, seem to echo the message. The plot unfolds around a terrorist attack on an American compound in Saudi Arabia and the subsequent FBI investigation.

While the movie is fictional, terrorist attacks of the kind depicted have been all too real, such as the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996 that killed 19 U.S. servicemen or the 2003 Riyadh compound attack that killed 35 Americans. Where the movie departs from reality is the idea that four maverick FBI agents can solve the crime and wipe out the bad guys in a few days time. Okay, maybe the terrorists were stupid and the FBI agents lucky.

The movie's giant car wreck is somewhat restrained by Hollywood standards but still involves sending a SUV flying through the air for no particular reason--at least related to physics. The SUV is directly behind a moving car-bomb at the moment the bomb detonates. Not only does the car-bomb fail to blast a crater in the ground but also fails to demolish the SUV. Instead, the car-bomb--certainly not the mother of all such devices--somehow creates a high pressure blast under the back, not the front of the SUV, making it go airborne with a back flip over the top of the burning car-bomb.

Then there are the marbles. These are used by the terrorist bomb makers for creating deadly projectiles when their devices explode. Used with a low powered explosive like black powder, marbles could be nasty projectiles. With a high explosive like C4, marbles would likely be pulverized. The movie implies that the terrorists used high explosives but it's hard to say exactly how and if they used it all the time. In any event there are evidently lots of intact marbles scattered around the initial crime scene, enough to later become a plot device.

In the lengthy climatic gun battle, bullets actually penetrate cars and walls. The bullet impacts are not perfect: when an FBI agent shoots out the front tires of a car, the tires look like they've been popped with exploding black powder charges. However, the silly cliché of  bullets making bright flashes of light as they impact is mercifully absent.

While we as viewers are thankfully spared the real ear splitting noise of gunfire, in an earlier scene an FBI agent responds with considerable pain when a heavy machine gun is unexpectedly fired near her ear. Again, this is what it would really be like.

Although the FBI gun battle score is lopsided--they pretty much shoot all the terrorists dead with no FBI losses--the depiction is conceivable. Highly trained, committed, and experienced professionals have at times gunned down numerous adversaries in real gun battles with few losses of their own. Indeed, some of the terrorists are clearly inexperienced amateurs.  The FBI agents consistently aim their shots while the terrorist frequently just point their assault rifles in the general direction and fire. Finally, let's face it, in real gun battles dumb luck is also a factor. Wyatt Earp, for example, died of old age without ever being hit by a single bullet, even though he participated in numerous gun battles against some of the Old West's most deadly gunmen.

As for the movie, it's evident that it's main goal is to entertain with lots of high velocity action. However, it does throw in a little enlightenment and does avoid some movie physics clichés--not enough to reach a higher level--but at least enough to be considered steps in the right direction.



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