Posted: 10/06/1999


Three Kings


by Del Harvey

An incredible film about three soldiers who attempt to steal Saddam’s stolen gold, and end up being the saviours of a desert tribe.

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On the surface, Three Kings is about four soldiers going AWOL during the last days of Operation Desert Storm in order to steal the gold bullion that Saddam Hussein stole from the Kuwaitis. The previews give us explosions and wisecracks to a ‘60’s beat that inspires a sense of Vietnam nostalgia. But, hold on, this is not just another George Clooney action film. Three Kings is full of surprises, and all of them good.

The film succeeds on many different levels, thanks to a well-conceived plot, choreographed cinematography, tight editing, competent acting, and a soundtrack that lends a perfect sensitivity to each scene and sequeway. The ringmaster for this perfect celluloid experience is David O. Russell, whose earlier efforts were “Spanking The Monkey” and “Flirting With Disaster.” His work on Three Kings far surpasses any previous efforts as he displays masterful technique and overall look to this film which are out of the ordinary and extremely effective.

Three Kings is an action film with the action delivered in an anti-violent manner. The scenestracing a bullet’s trajectory through human intestines are detailed graphically enough to put any homeboy off his Mac-10. And the action scenes are timed so their occurrence conveys the desired impact. The first real action scene is preceded by several set-ups which include a game of chicken between a Hum-Vee and a cow, and some imaginary moments, including the aforementioned bullet-through-the-belly sequence. By the time we are given the first real action scene the intensity between the actors and their gunplay is truly shocking, which is an amazing feat considering how dulled most contemporary American audiences are to violence.

The message is one that would seem better suited to a TV-Movie-Of-The-Week — but Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube pull it off, along with a supporting cast that includes Nora Dunn as an aging newswoman and Mykelti Williams as the less-than-aware Colonel in charge of these goldbricking grunts. The message is simple: it is better to help humankind than to succumb to greed. And somewhere along the line our hardcore soldiers manage to make the transition from shameless opportunists to benefactors. There are a number of scenes wherein each of our “kings” is given the opportunity to gain the wisdom of harmony with others beyond race and religion. Although, in the case of Ice Cube’s Chief Elgin we are given the impression he is on intimate terms with this sort of knowledge.

War, and most specifically the “military action” of Desert Storm, are woven into the film almost philosophically. The horror of war, and the reality of the effect of violence upon the human body, are truly ugly parts of life, but still a key part to this story. They mirror the ugliness of one race against another; of one religion against another. As the film progresses, and our “three kings” follow the path to wisdom and enlightenment that is borne of a difficult journey, we are shown a transformation of individuals who are forced to join together by a common goal. They eventually rise above this ugliness not out of any selfish motive, but out of the simple necessity of caring for another human being.

There are plenty of humorous moments in the film. The map-in-the-butt scene is somewhat infamous by now. Marky Mark’s lines are often quite humorous, as he is something of a straight man for everyone else in the film. In fact, there are plenty of comedic situations in Three Kings. And this film, along with “Out Of Sight,” should place Clooney near the top of that golden list of “most-popular” male stars, for the depth and maturity he displays in the role of a rogue special forces soldier with a heart of gold.

But it is not any one of these elements, alone, which makes Three Kings one of the best films in many years. Rather it is the total experience of a combined effort of all persons involved both in front of and behind the camera which unite to create an enjoyable and thought-provoking film, hidden under the guise of another mindless action pic. Three Kings should be on your “must-see” list. Don’t wait for it to come out on video.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He is a devout Bears fan, and therefore deserving of our sympathy.

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