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Three Kings

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 10/29/04 23:24:50

"Will someone just send a copy of this to Dubya please?"
5 stars (Awesome)

Still dark. Still funny. Still clever. Still relevant. Still brilliant.

It's funny how history repeats itself isn't it?

When 'Three Kings' was first released it was seen as a scabrous black comedy whch said things no-one else had ever dared to say in film regarding the Iraq war. It was hilarious, yet uncomfortable, but at least we could all sit back and say, "hey, at least we've all learned our lesson".

Hmm...then George W decided to release his sequel "Gulf War 2: Revenge of the Son" and everything that was relevant then is sadly more relevant now. 'Three Kings' now stands as a film that was a timely history lesson, but also an unfortunately ignored warning..

Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) is still in Iraq after combat operations have ended, but is seeking a little extra pay-off. His chance comes when three of his troopers, Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), Elgin (Ice Cube) and Conrad (Spike Jonze) find a map concealed on an Iraqi prisoner of war. The map details where Sadaam has hidden his stockpile of stolen Kuwaiti gold. Gates and company have no qualms about stealing it back from Sadaam and set off to pick up the gold on the quiet and return as millionaires. Things don't go quite to plan however as they become embroiled in a fight between Iraqi military and innocent villagers.

'Three Kings' is proof of what happens when you give a maverick director (David O. Russell) a seemingly generic script. 'Three Kings' could have been a horribly macho, flag-waving piece of turd (think how Michael Bay would have directed this). Russell, however turns his script smartly between black humour, action, politics and emotion, all the while keeping tight control of the film. Take a scene of Clooney trying to raise the support of some rebel militia. What would have been a nauseating 'Go America!' scene under Bay, is instead perfectly undercut by the response of the Iraqi's and Clooney's response back. It seems that in 'Three Kings' money does make the world go round.

But Russell doesn't beat you over the head with his political commentary and criticism, it's perfectly layered into the story. A scene involving Mark Wahlberg tied to a chair and an Iraqi soldier has some of the most pertinent critical dialogue of the war, but starts off as a question about Michael Jackson before veering off into something much more horrifying. It's a powerful, gut-wrenching scene that is easily the equal of the Russian roulette scene in 'The Deer Hunter'.

There's points made about America (Bush specifically) abandoning the innocent Iraqi's and how Archie is motivated by greed instead of genuine concern, but never to the detriment of the rest of the film. This may well be the funniest war film since 'MASH'. From the clueless and bored American grunts wondering if they should shoot people or clean sand out of their eyes first, to the more bizarre hoardings of the Iraqi's to a hilarious scene detailing the home jobs of the 3 troopers (the red-neck Conrad's nostalgic view of home life is worth your time alone), 'Three Kings' has a wicked sense of mischievous humour both jet-black and a mile wide.

And if Russell's follow-up has been a return to his indie/comedy roots (I Heart Huckabees), then he shouldn't forgot that he's a darn fine action director too. Because as critical and as funny as this film is, it also kicks much ass in the action stakes. There's a shoot-out in a village which reinvents the Mexican standoff in a way that Woo, Tarantino or Rodriguez haven't even began to imagine and a helicopter scrap that's like a lovechild of 'Die Hard' and pre-empts 'Black Hawk Down'. Russell aims at several targets in one audacious script and nails them all dead on. His style is awesome from moving the deserts away from the gorgeous vistas of 'Lawrence of Arabia' to something much more drained and baking hot, to a graphic illustration of what happens when you get shot.

And that's before we even get to a cast that's simply the icing on the cake. Cliff Curtis is very good as a rebellious villager, full of anger and wounded pride and Saiid Tamagouchi nearly steals the film as the soldier interrogating Wahlberg. Wahlberg however, uses his innocent fresh-faced looks to good effect as the least cynical soldier who gets his eyes opened to the truth in more ways than one. Jonze should do more acting jobs as his dim Conrad is a hoot (he thinks bullion is something that soup is made out of) and Cube avoids all the usual cliches of a black sidekick to make Elgin more of a tough guy.

And then there's Clooney, further cementing his screen presence after 'Out Of Sight'. His Gates is full of disgust for what he's seen and cynicism of the army life, but human enough to be unable to resist the Iraqi villagers plea for help.

It's tribute to both Clooney and the film, that this change of character and change of mission doesn't become sappy or sentimental, but natural and right. This results in an ending which avoids all traps of manipulation and stirs the emotions in the right way.

'Three Kings' is a film that will firmly stand the test of time. Perhaps the reason it wasn't the roaring success it should have been at the time, is because it was too timely and too honest in prodding at wounds that had barely healed. But it demands a re-watch now more than ever. Time will eventually decide that not only is 'Three Kings' a great history lesson, it's a great war film/comedy and one of the best films that the 90's ever produced.

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