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Three Kings

Three Kings:

Exceeding Expectations

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.


I certainly expected a low rate war/theft "comedy"

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.

Ice Cube, Clooney, and Wahlberg

Ice Cube, Clooney, and Wahlberg


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.



Official Website

Yahoo Full Coverage

Rotten Tomatoes

E Online

Movie Mall

During the wind down three soldiers—Troy Barlow, Chief

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.


What follows is one of the more interesting directorial turns in

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.



From Official Site

From Yahoo



Trailer from

Clip from


Clooney, Ice Cube, and Wahlberg

Three Kings

Now the film has assumed its most

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.

Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze


Said Taghmaoui

Above, Said Taghmaoui

Below, Mark Wahlberg

Troy Barlow

One poignant reminder of this is one of Saddam's faithful

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

powerful irony).


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.


Irony and harsh contrasts run rampant through

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.

Clooney and Curtis

Above, Clooney, Cliff Curtis, and other Iraqi rebels and children

Below, Iraqi women

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.





Cast includes George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice

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.



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