Review by Laura Reynolds
April 21, 2000
My initial expectations for a film are often not met or, even worse, are. The previous year's films
include many duds which did meet the low expectations I set for them, but there were several films
that met high expectations and exceeded them, including American Beauty and Being John
Malkovich. One very rare film also emerged--Three Kings transcended the low expectations
I had for it, becoming one of the top films of the year.
of little note. With actors such as Ice Cube and
"Marky" Mark Wahlberg, even George Clooney, I
certainly did not think this film would knock my
socks off. However, the film quickly took off,
gaining in momentum until the last few minutes and
throwing in plot twists throughout. The film is
well able to carry on its wry humor while dealing
with weighty subjects.
The film starts off at the close of the Gulf War-troops are celebrating the US victory despite their
relative inactivity throughout the conflict. The shooting of a single enemy soldier is a big event,
since most have not yet seen any bloodshed. More fighting is going on between rival reporters than
between these soldiers and the Iraqis.
Elgin, and Conrad Vig (portrayed respectively by Mark
Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze) find a map hidden
on one of the Iraqi soldiers. When Captain Archie Gates
(George Clooney) steps in, the four soldiers head off in
pursuit of the Kuwaiti bullion they believe the map is
pointing them to.
The film has now seemingly transformed from a war movie to an adventure/buddy movie. The group
finds a hidden bunker containing stolen merchandise ranging from televisions to toaster ovens to
suitcases, culminating in a room filled with millions of dollars worth of gold. The Iraqi
soldiers seem concerned very little that the Americans have come for the gold-they are far more
concerned with domestic rebel activities, and even assist the American soldiers in carrying the gold
out. However, the Americans are presented with more than they bargained for in this town.
Some of the Iraqi people listened to President Bush's challenge to rise up against Saddam--for it
they were being tortured, without any help from the Americans. Although they initially put up a cold
shoulder, focusing only on stealing the gold, the senseless murder of a woman in front of her
daughter and husband moves the men, especially Captain Gates.
the film. The camera follows the path of each bullet fired,
showing the chain reaction that occurs and deepening the
impact of each individual bullet. After shooting several Iraqi
soldiers, Gates gets the townspeople onto the humvee and flees
the town. When Iraqi soldiers derail the vehicle, the Iraqi
people in turn save the Americans. Clooney agrees to give the
people a share of the gold and vows to help them cross the
Iranian border. Meanwhile, Barlow has been captured.
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poignant form. It is a harsh rebuke to
the policies of President Bush. Moreover,
the Iraqis are now shown not as some
faceless enemy, but as ordinary people.
Above, Said Taghmaoui
Below, Mark Wahlberg
soldiers, Said. His own suffering throughout the war is
transposed into Barlow's own personal life--Barlow's captor
describes a sudden bombing as Barlow imagines his own wife
and child crushed in the rubble of their destroyed home.
However, the fact that the Iraqi is torturing the American
soldier weakens the point to some degree (although forcing
oil down Barlow's throat, using a CD to do so, carries
The cast is one of the film's strengths, Spike Jonze especially. Although his character is a
hackneyed redneck caricature-racist, ill educated, bloodthirsy, and naïve to boot--Jonze is able
to inject a humour into the film that is unmatched. Wahlberg is also a standout, and Clooney
does a commendable job. Ice Cube does Chief Elgin justice, but the character is the least interesting
and least explored of any.
Even more important to the film is the direction of David O. Russell, as well as the editing of
Robert Lambert. The gritty directorial style and edits fit the film well, coming off not like
an MTV production, as some of these tactics seemingly produce elsewhere, but as an edgy movie.
Ridley Scott's script, although not flawless, is clever, and is carried out well by the cast
and director Russell.
this film--hidden luxury cars and old lie
beneath horribly impoverished communities, the
people are inspired to fight against Saddam by
President Bush but are slaughter when his
implied promise of US aid proves hollow. The
film is able to combine both patriotism and
cynicism successfully. The film also straddles
the lines of comedy and tragedy, combining them
in a powerful way, all but forcing Americans to
reevaluate their nation's presence in the Gulf
as well as their prejudices.
Above, Clooney, Cliff Curtis, and other Iraqi rebels and children
Below, Iraqi women
Towards the end the film loses its edge, falling into the predictability it mostly avoided throughout
the majority of the film. However, the somewhat weak ending is only a minor detail when viewed in
the larger context of the film. Nonetheless, it is disappointing for the film to follow such a path
even though the path followed was not terribly uncommon.
The film is a worthy follow-up to earlier war parodies such as MASH. This is clearly a movie that
shows some amount of patriotism while questioning the country and her actions. The film heroifies men
who would classically be termed as either antiheroes or the enemies themselves. Overall, this movie is
well worth the money spent to rent it, even to buy it.
Cube, Nora Dunn, Jamie Kennedy, Mykelti Williamson,
Cliff Curtis, Said Taghmaoui, Spike Jonze, Holt
McCallany, Judy Greer, and Christopher Lohr.
Director David O. Russell.
Written by Ridley Scott.
Released by Warner Brothers, 1999.