With two ex-rappers and a guy from ER leading the cast, I wasn’t expecting much from Three Kings. Am I the only one that can still picture Ice Cube being squeezed to death by a huge snake in possibly the worst movie ever, Anaconda? Or how about a buffed-up hood rat named Marky Mark dancing around, “Feeling the Good Vibrations?” And whatever happened to our favorite TV doctor? George Clooney is not supposed to be an action hero. Remember, he’s a lover not a fighter.
One thing being a film critic has taught me is that in Hollywood, images can change faster and more frequently than Dennis Rodman’s hair dye.
That also means that despite their questionable past roles, looks, and images this hodgepodge cast does an excellent job in Three Kings. Director David O. Russell’s (Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster) film is much more than just your average action movie, as it compiles dark themes with light-hearted humor in an entertaining yet frightful odyssey of three American soldiers and the complications of the Gulf War.
The film is set in March 1991; one day after the cease-fire has been declared between Iraqi and NATO troops. A small group of adventurous American soldiers in Iraq is determined to steal over 40 million dollars worth of gold belonging to Saddam Hussein that is supposedly hidden near their desert base. After they discover a map belonging to an Iraqi soldier that they believe will lead them to the jackpot, four American soldiers begin an incredible journey that will change their lives forever.
Led by Special Forces Captain Archie Gates (George Clooney) the rest of the group is composed of U.S. Army Sergeant Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) and Private Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze – The Game, Mi Vida Loca). In their attempt to heist the gold, they encounter the savagery of Iraqi soldiers towards their own civilians and must choose between personal wealth or whether or not to help the desperate Iraqi people.
Much of the film’s conflict stems from George Bush’s hollow proclamation that the Iraqi people would be supported by the U.S. military if they rose up against Hussein. The film vividly depicts how the Iraqi military is forced to squelch any potential uprisings through violence and starvation of civilians who are expecting help from American troops, but never receive what they are promised. It also makes the statement that the war wasn’t really about getting Saddam out of Kuwait as much as it was about oil. David O. Russell, who also was the screenwriter, should be commended for his ability to make such a powerful anti-war avowal, yet keep it within the confines of an entertaining product.
Well-acted and directed, the cinematography was also very stirring at certain points. There are several key slow motion shots tracking the path of bullets going through the human body along with the body’s reaction from within. These provocative sequences add a powerful sense of reality, and they will make you squirm.
While it does succeed, Three Kings is not without its share of flaws. A few typically distasteful jokes, some bad lines, and couple of dull plot fillers can be easily ignored without scoffing at the film as a whole.
It is definitely one of the best movies of the late summer season and should be enjoyed and praised for its imagination, excitement, and climactic conclusion.
Review by Athan Bezaitis © 1999 filmcritic.com