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Three Kings (1999) – Movie Review

Three Kings

Written and Directed by David O. Russell, based on a story by John Ridley
Starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Nora Dunn

My Advice: Matinee.

It’s Iraq, 1991, and the war is over. Soldiers cavort about, drinking and having a good time. When they are faced with an enemy soldier, they ask confusedly if they’re supposed to be shooting people at that moment. None of them have any idea why they were there to begin with, much less why they have to mollycoddle the press to try and keep them happy. However, when three soldiers find a map in an Iraqi soldier’s… ah… nethereye… they become convinced by a disgruntled Captain (Clooney) that it might be directions to a cache of stolen Kuwaiti gold. So they set out on a mission to fake their way into the bunkers, steal the gold, and get back before anybody notices. Easy, right? Right.

[ad#longpost]This makes for an interesting film, and a very busy one as well. It starts as a dark comedy about war, then skirts the action-adventure genre while also trying to make points about the horror of combat which most Americans have to rely on Spielberg to explain to them. For a patchwork kind of feel, the film actually manages to coagulate into some kind of watchable and enjoyable whole–for the most part. But first, let’s talk people for a second. Wahlberg and Clooney deliver solid performances, and Clooney actually manages to keep from falling into the one character he usually plays. Ice Cube seems to get better each time I see him. Jonze is moderately amusing when he’s given something to do instead of just being the redneck archetype.

Now–when Russell is making his points, even though it’s obvious he’s Making His Points, for some reason they don’t seem as heavy handed as they really are. That’s probably because they’re handled in such an original manner. For example, describing what happens when a person is shot, we are suddenly transported to within a chest cavity and see the damage being done. Needless to say, one gets the gist. A firefight slowed down to shot by shot speed coupled with this previous explanation becomes all the more devastating. However, when the true message of the film gets literally–I mean literally–shoved down your throat (ahem), the spell for me was broken. It was ham-fisted and… completely unoriginal and unnecessary. And what’s worse, the film couldn’t seem to recover. It seemed to slide inevitably toward its resolution, policy fighting humanity all the way, with the sum total seeming flat and a bit of a let down.

Russell does so many things correctly, and does so many things in a new and interesting way, it’s almost as though he let the mundane (for lack of a better word) aspects of the story drag the rest down. And it’s a damn shame, but still an interesting film and well worth catching on the big screen to see the interesting effects he serves up. Despite the hard time I’ve just seemingly given him, I can’t wait to see his second “big studio” film.

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