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Three Kings (1999)

October 12, 2010

8/10 Kevlar Philanthropists

Everything a war movie isn’t, and that’s exactly why it works.

Three Kings is about four self-serving, trigger-happy US soldiers stationed in Iraq during the final days of the Gulf War who go AWOL when they happen upon an “Iraqi ass map” which leads them to a nearby village that’s secretly stashing a disgusting amount of gold bullion that used to belong to Saddam but now rightfully belongs to Kuwait. So the GIs roll up with the intent of cleaning house and getting rich off the natives, but then they witness the reality of the country’s situation which boils down to the fact that Saddam’s Republican Guard is gonna butcher any and all Iraqi prisoners as soon as the US clears out, and so their plans take a turn for the moral as try do something right in a pointless war that ultimately did more harm than good.

I wish I knew more about the Gulf War outside of this and Jarhead so I could have some input on the matter outside of what the movies tell me, but, man, that sure seemed like one boring-ass snafu of a time. Also hanging my head in shame that this is the only David O. Russell movie I’ve seen, not only because he went to my mom’s alma mater, not only because I’ve heard nothing but great things about everything he’s put out (with the exception of I ♥ Huckabees), and not only because the dude is apparently a fucking maniac on set, but because I feel like a freakin’ idiot for realizing firsthand so late in the game that he is no joke. All the same, I’ll gladly pay for all these mea culpas that are piling up by the hour.

First time I saw this was around Junior High/Freshman year of High School, and while I liked it, I didn’t really get why I liked it, I just thought it was cool that was getting to see such a seriously R-rated movie while the rest of my friends were still quoting The Mighty Ducks 3. This was also before I really started geeking out on movies or attempted to absorb anything that was said to me in Social Studies, and while I dug it, watching it again recently was night-and-day.

It’s just fucking crazy, all of it. From the directing to the script to the story to the music, they’re all equal parts wacko, but I guess that kinda goes with the territory with war movies nowadays, and that’s about the only thing this movie has in common with any other war movie I’ve seen aside from Dr. Strangelove. It’s David O. Russell’s brainchild, and even if this is your first taste of what he’s got to offer, it totally stands out, you’ll remember it.

He wrote the script, and the script is great. Tons of character development, tons of really funny/really haunting dialogue and scenarios that’ll shake you right up and have you laughing your ass off, and just a boat load of originality to spare that all goes hand-in-hand with his direction. At times, Russell can get a little too artsy fartsy for his own good during super slow-mo shootouts that dissect where every fired bullet lands and almost start taking notes from Tony Scott, but that’s about the only bad thing I’ve got to say. From helicopters blown up by Nerf footballs to exploding cows to blindly driving trucks through minefields to the most graphic, “how-did-they-film-that?” depiction of whatever the hell a sepsis wound is, this is some in-your-face gritty shit. And that’s just the serious stuff, doesn’t even account for the dark laughter that comes along with a military humvee storming a village to the sounds of The Beach Boys and a sudden cry session over sea of dead birds covered in oil.

Yeah…on second thought, you should probably just see it. Pretty sure I’m doing a terrible job of getting the humor across, but believe me, it’s there, and it’s somethin’.

And while on the outset it might seem like the casting director was probably some producer’s 13-year-old nephew from the suburbs who really had a thing for E.R. and gangster rap, the gamble paid off big time. Nowadays, George Clooney is hot shit Hollywood royalty and deservedly so, but I gotta say, he was so badass in the ’90s what with Out of Sight and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (alright, that was 2000, but I’m counting it) and his role here as Archie Gates – the driver of the Winnebago – is a great reminder of those days. The dude just sweats cool, he’s such a smooth motherfucker and no one gets that suave wiseass-vibe going like he does. Chances are he’ll win an Oscar one of these days the way he’s headed, but whatever, he really was the man back in his “prime”. Archie Gates: sweet dude.

But aside from Clooney, this also marks the rise of Marky Mark hot off the heels of Boogie Nights as Troy Barlow. It stands as the swan song for all of Ice Cube‘s remaining street cred left over from his days of scaring the daylights out of crackers, only to be wasted in Barbershops, more Fridays than any stoner can truthfully admit to remembering, and somehow managing to turn Are We There Yet? into a syndicated series (then again, TBS sucks). And let’s not forget, it was the only glimpse we’ve ever been allowed into the acting life of Spike Jonze, and while I thank the celluloid gods that he found his calling behind the camera, I nonetheless shed a tear for the sad truth that Conrad Vig is probably all we’re gonna get.

On paper, this all sounds really weird, like The Greatest Hits of the ’90s: Camouflage Edition, but they’re all awesome not only on a comedic front, but surprisingly legit when shit starts to get real. I’m sure no one was worried about Clooney at the time, but considering that he was playing opposite Calvin Klein’s #1 underwear model and a guy who’s claim to fame was telling the cops to go fuck ’emselves over the airwaves, they really hold their own.

Anyway, Three Kings is a wild ride with a great anti-war/do-the-right-thing message and a whole lot of heart that you don’t expect from the outset, yet arcs wonderfully from beginning to end. Can see myself giving this a 9 in future viewings and I feel like it’s got more of a “wow” factor the first time around, but while it’s not the be-all-end-all as an action movie or an anti-war drama, it’s pretty high up there as its own little monster. It’s so freakin’ ’90s, but with the exception of boy bands and a whole lot of political tomfoolery, let’s face it, the ’90s was a pretty swayze decade.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2010 12:36 am

    A lot more intelligent and witty than most action movies out there, and there is enough thrills and action to satisfy everyone even though the Gulf War was probably the most boring war ever fought in the eyes of an infantry-man.

    • October 12, 2010 1:13 pm

      Yeah, I think that’s what dragged Jarhead down so much, because it didn’t pussyfoot around the fact that the GW was apparently boring as fuck. Feel like revisiting it now, but I don’t think it’ll measure up to this whatsoever. Kickass movie.

  2. October 12, 2010 1:38 pm

    Three Kings is great as an action movie as well as a war film. Can’t say that for too many genre pieces like that.

  3. October 13, 2010 10:30 pm

    You just convinced me to buy this film since it is just being released on blu-ray. Very intelligent film

    • October 14, 2010 12:37 pm

      wow. you just made me feel awesome. good movie to own, it’s in my collection too.

  4. October 14, 2010 1:45 pm

    Gates: “No unnecessary shots, Conrad, ’cause we know what they do.”
    Conrad: “Make infected pockets full of bile, sir.”
    Gates: “That’s right, Conrad, that’s what they do.”

    Love this movie, it gets forgotten far too ofter and I’m looking forward to upgrading to Blu Ray…might be superfluous but I think it’d be worth it.

    • October 14, 2010 2:50 pm

      hahaha. good line, that was an awesome scene too. i say go for the blu-ray, damn good looking movie that could use the royal treatment.

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