Presented by Universal Pictures and Relativity Media, The Kingdom is a 2007 action-drama that follows a group of US government agents as they investigate a brutal attack on American citizens in the Middle East. In addition to showcasing the vision of director Peter Berg, The Kingdom features an impressive ensemble cast, including Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman, as well as unbelievable stunts and special effects choreographed by some of the best in the business.
The following facts illustrate how this visually impressive, deeply suspenseful, and thematically relevant film evolved from a concept into a major motion picture:
Director Peter Berg developed the ideas behind The Kingdom for over a decade before the film’s production.
After the bombing of an American residential complex in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, claims the lives of several US citizens, FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) assembles a highly skilled team to get to the bottom of the brutal attack. Agent Fleury leads Agents Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), and Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman) into a political climate rife with bureaucratic red tape and anti-American suspicions, eventually forging a clandestine agreement with a Saudi Arabian consul to gain temporary entry into the crime scene. Navigating a maze of cultural differences and diplomatic concerns, the group races against time to apprehend one of the Middle East’s deadliest terrorist masterminds.
The basis for The Kingdom began to take root in Berg’s mind after the Khobar Towers bombing of June 25, 1996. Organized by the militant group Hezbollah, the tragic incident claimed the lives of 19 Americans and one Saudi citizen, and wounded nearly 400 other individuals. While this extremist attack clearly inspired the violent event that serves as a catalyst for the plot of The Kingdom, Peter Berg drew just as much influence from the attack’s diplomatic fallout.
Although the incident occurred on Saudi soil, it sparked international sorrow and concern, prompting an unprecedented collaboration between Saudi law enforcement and the FBI. Although complicated by the nations’ political, cultural, and procedural differences, the partnership marked a key step toward global cooperation against terrorism. “I thought it would be a fascinating idea for a film,” says Berg,” to watch how the American and Arab cultures—both targets of religious violence and sharing a common interest in battling religious extremism—navigate differences, suspicions and politics to try and work together.”
Peter Berg personally sought out screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan.
After securing Michael Mann and his studio, Forward Pass Productions, to produce, Berg began the search for a screenwriter with a specific name in mind. At the time, Matthew Michael Carnahan was virtually unknown in Hollywood, having written only an unproduced script entitled Soldier Field. Berg, however, had read this script—a mob drama focused on the trials and tribulations of a Chicago police officer—and was immediately impressed by Carnahan’s political knowledge knack for crafting action sequences. His skillset was a perfect fit for The Kingdom, as Peter Berg sought to create a film that, in his words, “was entertaining and muscular with strong action, yet was fair in capturing the politics of the times.”
The crew overcame roadblocks regarding their filming location.
When political and logistical obstacles made it impractical to film on location in Saudi Arabia, the production team turned to a more convenient location with a comparable climate and geography: Arizona. Prior to filming, Peter Berg traveled to Saudi Arabia for two weeks to perform research for the film. Production designer Tom Duffield and his team relied partially on Berg’s photographs to recreate Saudi Arabia’s urban landscapes on a vacant lot near Mesa. Other filming locations including Arizona State University’s Polytechnic Campus and multiple interior areas of the Gilbert Police Department.
For one key action sequence—a highway chase scene that kicks off the intense final act of the film—the crew choose a two-mile stretch of the then-unopened North Loop 202/Red Mountain Freeway between Phoenix and Mesa. The production team shot the suspenseful and stunt-heavy sequence over three consecutive weeks in August, working in blazing triple-digit temperatures that allowed them to quite literally fry an egg on the blacktop.
After completing principal photography, The Kingdom crew had the opportunity to film a few scenes on-location in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Supported by a local Dubai-based production company called Filmworks, the crew secured multiple establishing shots of locations such as the Emirates Palace Hotel.
The Kingdom received industry recognition for its incredible stunt work
Although the protagonists’ investigation follows a winding trail of suspense and political intrigue, The Kingdom also includes a number of stunt sequences sure to impress any action movie buff. In addition to earning a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture at the 2008 Screen Actors Guild Awards, the crew of The Kingdom also received World Stunt Awards nominations for both Best Fight and Best Work with a Vehicle.
The latter nomination recognized the incredible freeway scene that sets in motion the film’s action-packed conclusion, beginning as a four-car convoy travels down the highway. A sudden ambush by a suicide driver sets off a violent chain reaction including cannon roles, pyrotechnics, and no fewer than three car crashes. The stunt and visual effects teams organized two SUV crashes using tracks and a remote driving mechanism, but one SUV—which flips over several times during the scene—actually required the expertise of a stunt driver, who performed the feat three times.
The Kingdom’s numerous stunts required the collaboration of several members of the crew, including director Peter Berg, cinematographer Mauro Fiore, stunt coordinator Keith Woulard, and 2nd unit director Phil Neilson, a seasoned stunt professional known for his work in films such as Gladiator (2000) and Black Hawk Down (2001). Academy Award-winning special effects coordinator Burt Dalton oversaw the creation of the various pyrotechnics and explosions needed for the film’s high-octane shootouts, and for the movie iconic highway scene, the filmmakers even consulted with the FBI and CIA to create the most accurate explosions possible.