Three Kings (1999)

 

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Rating: The Good – 80.5
Genre: War
Duration: 114 mins
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube

David O. Russell is a very special film-maker, there’s no doubt. To take a heist movie that is essentially an allegory about the greedy motivations of modern superpowers, root it in a story that is equally touching and funny, litter it with hard-edged action, and then infuse the whole thing with more visual and auditory verve than practically any other movie of the 90’s…is no small feat. Set during the first Gulf War, George Clooney fronts an interesting cast as a special forces Major who leads three enlisted soldiers into enemy territory to nab for themselves some of the gold that Saddam stole from Kuwait.

Heist movie, war movie, comedy, or drama, Three Kings works effectively on all levels. There’s a burning originality to Russell’s approach as both director and writer. Images of bleached desertscapes contrasted with brilliant blue skies are pictorially enhanced due to combination of transparent film and silver halide to create vibrant colours and true blacks while, on the writing front, his adaptation of John Ridley’s story sews thoughtful but accessible dialogue with hysterically funny turns of phrase to produce a script of real elegance. The result is a cogent balancing of surreal moments of war with slick action drama, a madcap roller-coaster of sleek satirical mayhem.

All this is burnished by an understated intersection of character and plot that at all times does justice to the political sentiments of the overall project. And it’s here that the cracking cast makes their contribution as Clooney, Ice Cube, Mark Walhberg, and Spike Jonze are individually assured but collectively superb. Clooney’s Major Archie Gates has an edged charisma that is well suited to his role of the beleaguered special forces operative and, with it, he plays off the more homely charm of Mark Walberg who is undoubtedly at his best here. At the time of release, Ice Cube was a bit of a revelation as the spiritual yet burly chief while Jonze just about steals the show as the slightly unhinged but well meaning yokel.

The politics of the film bleed out bit by bit as these characters interact but through its easy humour, charm, and excitement, it never feels preachy. In fact, in these more cynical and manipulative times, Three Kings is exactly what a war film needs to be:- intelligent, bold, and with a necessary sense of humour.

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