War movies about World War II, the Vietnam War, and most recently the War in Iraq and the entire crisis of the Middle East get pumped out year after year with excellent box office returns. Let’s face it, war is a topic that interests a great many people. Think about this though, how often do you see a war film about the Gulf War? It was a quick conflict that doesn’t get all that much attention. Three Kings examines the tactical and human side of this conflict that is both comedic and difficult.
The Gulf War is coming to a close and the soldiers couldn’t be more thrilled. Parties are thrown on bases with alcohol, sex, and music. Determined not to go home empty handed a group of soldiers decide to go on a quest to recover for themselves a portion of the stolen gold bullion of Kuwait. This team is made up of Maj. Archie Gates (George Clooney), Sgt. 1 Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), SSgt. Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), and Pfc. Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze). The personal mission for the golden fortune soon turns into a violent crusade against the Iraq military in an attempt to escort a group of Iraqi citizens over the Iran border, all of this against strict military protocol.
The opening of the film plays out wonderfully as a madcap/screwball kind of comedy. The entire cast has thickly layered characters who have their own personalities that are intentionally or unintentionally funny. All of the actors play very well off each other making the bond that they all have feel strong and the growth of said bond over the film play out truthfully.
At a certain point in the movie, however, this shit hits the fan with a harrowing sequence that knocks the viewer back to the real world. I can’t say this happens to me a lot, but I actually began to tear up. I’ve seen lots of violence before in film, but something about this scene and the rest to come made me think of how this isn’t really fictional. Sure, the story may be, but the rest of it is clearly based off of the people’s lives in the Middle East. We only get one life to live, as far as I know, and to spend it in the desert being murdered by your own leader is not a way to spend it.
Along with the exceptional story structure and characters there is a phenomenal display of artistic talent at work. David O. Russell isn’t your average director, he’s well above it. A few of his other films are I Heart Huckabees and the wonderful movie The Fighter. Three Kings is on a totally different artistic playing field. There was actually a message in the beginning of the film explaining that this movie is loaded with symbols and otherwise unconventional film making. This shouldn’t have to be there. I understand symbolism and artistic freedom. There is one beautiful low shot of George Clooney with the clouds speeding by above him. It was remarkable.
I’ve seen plenty of war movies in my day, and Three Kings is one of my new favorites. It blends drama, action, and comedy just as well as Stanley Kubrick did with his Vietnam epic Full Metal Jacket. It’s a side of humanity that I feel people try to ignore in order to get along with their lives just a little more comfortably. If anything, this movie will certainly entertain, but it should hopefully enlighten as well.