Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: David O Russell
Stars: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Nora Dunn, Jamie kennedy, Mykelti Williamson, Said Taghmaoui, Cliff Curtis, Liz Stauber, Holt McCallany.
In the 1970 war film Kelly’s Heroes, Clint Eastwood led a ragtag bunch of soldiers who looted Nazi gold as they made their way across occupied Europe as part of the allied invasion. David O Russell’s smart action thriller takes a similar premise, but sets it against the background of the Gulf War of the early 1990’s and imbues it with a healthy dose of cynicism.
In 1991 the Gulf War conflict was winding to a close, as President Bush and Saddam Hussein negotiated a peace treaty. However, for four disenchanted soldiers, another war was just beginning.
Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze, the director of Being John Malkovich, making his acting debut) are bored with the lack of action they have seen. When they find a map supposedly leading to Saddam’s bunkers laden with the spoils of war, they set out to plunder some gold bullion and set themselves up for life. Along for the trip is the deeply religious Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) and veteran soldier Archie Gates (George Clooney), who is on the verge of resigning his commission anyway.
Unlike Kelly’s Heroes, which was purely a caper film, Three Kings is a war film with a conscience and a political message, and Russell actually pushes the material in a markedly different direction. Somewhere along the way these flawed heroes get caught up in the aftermath of the war as they end up trying to lead a group of refugees through dangerous territory to the border and freedom. They cannot stand by idly and watch as Saddam’s army takes out its vengeance on these refugees and dispossessed nationals.
Clooney is good as the laconic Gates and gives probably his best screen performance to date, while Wahlberg is also dynamic as the brash Barlow.
A cynical exploration of America’s involvement in the war, Three Kings is the Iraqi/Gulf War equivalent of Platoon. Written by John Ridley (U-Turn, etc) and Russell, the film questions America’s involvement in the Gulf conflict, as well as the role played by the media in sensationalising the war. The film examines the cynical way in President Bush abandoned the Iraqi people to their fate once the Kuwaiti oil was safe guarded. This politically contentious and controversial sub-text gives Three Kings far more depth, substance and intelligence than the average Hollywood action flick. The film marks something of a change of pace for Russell, better known for the low budget independent films Spanking The Monkey and Flirting With Disaster. However, he also brings a quirky sensibility and stylish visual quality to the material that sets it apart from most genre films. Russell suffuses the action with lots of graphic violence, slow motion action, stylish camera work, a streak of black humour, and an inventiveness that is rare in mainstream movies.
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