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Needed better directing and editing
on January 1, 2008
Other reviewers have done a decent job summing up this film. It has some good moments and as an action thriller the final half hour is great stuff.
But one of the things that annoyed me most about the film was that it resorted to too many standard Hollywood cliches. And at times it painted with too broad a brush.
Take the four main characters. Each is straight out of Hollywood's stock supply of cliched characters:
-the self-assured cocky commander who protects his people (Jamie Foxx)
-the good ole boy (Chris Cooper--who, after 'Breach," deserves better)
-the wise-cracker (Jason Bateman)
-the tough chick (Jennifer Garner)
Right from the beginning the director wants us to know that Jamie Foxx's character is a good guy, and so when we are introduced to him, he is at his son's school talking to a bunch of wide-eyed tykes. Obviously he is a good guy, because he loves his son and little children, right? And this is supposed to contrast with the terrorist leader who also loves his son, but shows it by making him watch a suicide bombing.
So then the film goes on and all of these stock characters pretty much do nothing. I cannot remember Jason Bateman's character actually doing anything for the investigation. All he does is tell jokes, whereas one agent asks questions, another digs for evidence of the bomb, and the third collects evidence from the bodies. Why is he there at all? Well, we find out that he's there simply to be the likable guy who gets taken hostage. He's the token victim (whereas if any other member of the team had been taken hostage, presumably they would have killed all their assailants by themselves).
There's another cliche in the form of the State Department jerk. The FBI must love this film, because their director is portrayed as heroic and their field officers are smart and brave, whereas every other government bureaucrat is a slimy dweeb. The only honorable people in the US government are at the FBI, apparently. And when the State Department guy shows up in Saudi Arabia he wears a bad suit, a bad tie, is unshaven and totally smarmy. We're supposed to love the FBI agents and hate the State Department guy and the director wants no ambiguity about this. It reminds me of Star Trek, where the bad people always have bad skin.
None of the American actors really puts in much effort. Foxx just doesn't own this film like he has some others. Jennifer Garner probably does the most with her character. The only real standout is Ashraf Barhom as the Saudi police colonel, Faris al Ghazi.
The final action sequence is also a bit of a story-telling cheat. Clearly the writer and director wanted a reason for the Americans to go all Rambo and save the day, but the way to get them to this point was rather cheap: the Americans get attacked, one of them gets taken hostage, and then the three remaining FBI agents turn into a rescue force that takes on dozens of terrorists more heavily armed than them--and on their own turf--and wins. It's like the director was desperately searching for a reason to have a big firefight, even though it does not fit with the script.
I also found the ending of the film to be really odd. After the FBI agents are portrayed as noble heroes, the last lines of dialogue essentially equate what they did with what the terrorists did. For both, it was all about vengeance. The never-ending circle of violence and all that. This did not really fit the rest of the film.
It's too bad. With a better director, this adequate film could have been much more interesting.