Three Kings

Directed by David O. Russell
Starring: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Nora Dunn.
MPAA Rating: R for graphic war violence, language and some sexuality.

Review by Matt Heffernan
October 1, 1999

When I started, my first video picks were A Simple Plan and Treasure of the Sierra Madre. They each dealt with a group of people who came into a large fortune, but greed and paranoia tore them apart. Now, a film that could have been similar comes along, but actually makes an entirely different statement.

On the last day of the Persian Gulf War, the American reserve troops are put in charge of searching Iraqi prisoners of war. During a search, Vig Conrad (Spike Jonze) finds a map in a prisoner's... ahem, rear passage. Fellow soldiers Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) take Conrad and the map into a tent, and start to decipher it. Visiting Special Forces officer, Major Archie Gates (George Clooney), barges in, and finds that they have a map leading to a reserve of stolen Kuwaiti gold bullion.

Gates ditches tagalong reporter Adrianna Cruz (Nora Dunn), steals a Hum-V, and takes Barlow, Elgin, and Conrad on a trip to find the gold, and go home rich. What they didn't count on were the disenfranchised civilians that lived around the bunker. They are forced with a moral decision: risk incredible wealth and their own safety for the welfare of people that were recently "the enemy".

Three Kings differs from the films mentioned above because of this element of humanity. At the same time, this film also has a very dark sense of humor that sets an interesting tone. It doesn't have the conventional feel of an action film, which makes it stand out in the genre. Sure, they blow up a lot of stuff, but there is a definite intelligence underneath it. Writer/Director David O. Russell translates the ironic comedy he used in Flirting With Disaster to a highly effective and thrilling adventure.

The photography in the film gives the sense of a documentary. The outdoor scenes are so grainy, they often appear to be shot with a 16mm or 8mm camera. Also, there is a lot of quick panning, with few cuts. It adds a degree of realism to a film that is about a very surreal war. This contrast can be jarring at times, but Clooney (in his best film work to date) and the rest of the cast help make it believable. The characters are well drawm, and we genuinely care about what happens to them.

This film actually reminded me more of Seven Samurai and other films by Kurosawa. He understood how to combine the elements of action, comedy, and humanity better than anybody. Luckily, this film doesn't disappoint, even in comparison to such classics.

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Three Kings (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan