I have a recurring dream. Or more accurately, I have an extremely vivid experience that occurs occasionally when I sleep, where I find myself in the midst of a raging gun battle. The dream’s location isn’t ever the same place twice (the Falkland Islands, the Balkans – never Africa, funnily enough.) But the activity is always the same; an onslaught of machine gun fire clattering around my ears. Think Black Hawk Down. Think the ambush in Clear and Present Danger. Think Heat (again.) What’s more curious is that I am always surprised by just how icy calm I am as the bullets slam into the walls around me; I really don’t expect to actually be tough in the line of fire.
I mention this because I saw Peter Berg’s movie, The Kingdom, on tv again the other night – the second time I’ve caught it in a couple of weeks. A crime drama that’s punctuated by breathtaking episodes of sustained violence, the plot follows a small team of FBI experts (including a rocking Jennifer Garner) following a massive terrorist attack on an American compound in Saudi. Given grudging permission to travel to Riyadh, they are “managed” by local investigators, police, the Saudi Royal family and unctious American diplomats, as they attempt to work through the restrictions and solve the crime. Of course it gets a bit jingo-istic (U-S-A!) and it has been called both Xenophobic and Islamophobic – so much so, in fact, that it was banned even in liberal Bahrain (they objected to the suggestions that Saudi forces were infiltrated by terrorists, apparently.) But whilst the Americans are admittedly portrayed as all good, the Arabs are not conversely played as all bad – there are a couple of remarkably nuanced and interesting performances, particularly by Arab-Israeli actor, Ashraf Barhom.
Saudi Arabia not only bans cinemas, it also bans filmmaking, so the movie was never going to get made on home turf. Instead, the producers took the on location filming to neighbouring United Arab Emirates, specifically the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. One of the key locations – I’m assuming it stood in for the royal palace – was the 400 room Emirates Palace Hotel. Interestingly, the scenes at the American compound were shot at the Polytechnic campus of Arizona State University – apparently there are saguaro cacti visible in the background in places.