There's some pretty good performances and only one notably "off" one. (Jeremy Piven, with a pretty terrible hairpiece, must be said, playing Ari Gold as diplomat. He wouldn't have been more distracting had he been wearing groucho glasses and smoking an exploding cigar.) Jamie Foxx doesn't do much aside from act badass. But that's pretty much what the roll requires. Jennifer Garner is nice to look at as always. That said, it seems slightly odd, in fact unrealistic, that she would be allowed to be included in the team, given the, ah, cultural issues involved with a female (wearing a tank top no less!) doing police work in Saudi Arabia. Jason Bateman and Chris Cooper gleefully take turns stealing scenes. The real find is Israeli-Arab actor Ashraf Barhom, who takes what would be the "Wise, dark-skinned guide" role and turns it into a Saudi version of the straight-man in a buddy-cop movie (think Murtaugh, to Foxx's Riggs).
The performances, however, aren't the issue. The problem is the subject matter. First of all, is realistic terrorism (as opposed to the cartoon version found in say "True Lies") a proper backdrop for what is essentially a popcorn movie? I'm all for realism, and "Black Hawk Down" and "United 93" are fine films touching on similar subjects. However, those two movies are based on actual events - the director didn't make up a horrific attack. This is another reason why a movie like "The Siege" is much more jarring today than it was when released.
The second problem is message. It's simply impossible to make a film on this topic without expressing some viewpoint. And given that the motivating force is the desire of Foxx to get some FBI "boots on the ground" and kick ass, jingoism was entirely possible. But Berg makes a fairly odd choice which intends to subvert this "hu-rah" attitude, and instead is just confusing. Yglesias:
This was, despite being terrible in certain predictable ways (like how all of a sudden an FBI evidence response team is able to conduct awesome commando operations in unfamiliar terrain against a numerically superior force) also definitely had its artfully-done-thriller qualities. But politically . . . wtf was happening? For the vast majority of the movie, it seemed as if at last conservatives had gotten the right-wing war on terror movie they've been craving -- the one where awesome go-getter, ass-kicking agents of American hard power need to take down some terrorists and, even worse, pansy bureaucrats and state department types..
Then at the end it takes an ideological swerve so sharp only a professional driver on a closed course would dare attempt it all the way into the domain of outright moral equivalence. Baffling.
Pooh's view: Well done but unsettling thriller. 3.5/5.
Note: At the old place I think it stopped being fun blogging, because I got to wound up about politics, which is a subject which aggravates me for many reasons. I hope that the sum total of my 'political' discussion on this one will be limited to things like reviews of obviously politically tinged films and/or my own personal political activities. In general, I'll outsource my thoughts on matters to political to the professionals such as Yglesias and Klein. Unbeknownst to them of course