|THREE KINGS (1999)|
|"Are we shooting people or what?"|
|Time: 115 mins.|
I wasn't sure what to expect when I went in to see THREE KINGS. I just knew it was going to be very different and thought-provoking. I wasn't disappointed. David O'Russell always make films that push the envelope in either style or substance and THREE KINGS does both. I can understand why this film may not be as popular as it should, because it's not an easy sell. Most people don't want to sit through a 2-hour war movie, no matter whether the United State came out on top or not. This is not always an easy film to watch, though not due to the violence. It's hard to swallow because Russell doesn't take the easy way out. All the characters are fairly morally ambiguous and when you sit through a movie you want a hero to root for. As we learn, heros and victims come in all races and that is not a message most Americans will want to swallow. That said, THREE KINGS is as much an action movie as a political one. It could just as easily taken place anywhere in the world, but without the war as a backdrop it would have lost its' heart. And that's what makes this more than just a war movie.
The film begins with three low-ranking soldiers Chief (Ice Cube), Troy (Wahlberg) and Conrad (Spike Jonze) finding a map to what they believe will lead them to the bunkers of treasure Saddam stole from the Kuwaitis. They are forced to accept the leadership of Archie Gates (George Clooney), a special forces officer trying to ditch an annoying newswoman. The map may show the location of Saddam's stolen treasure, but it's not watches and jewelry that they're going to steal. It's the Kuwaiti's gold bullion. They formulate a simple, seemingly foolproof plan: leave at dawn, drive to the town, steal the gold and be back before they're missed. The Iraqis aren't going to care about a small group of American soldiers since the peace accord has been signed. In fact, the Iraqis civilian revolution should keep the Iraqi soldiers busy, so they should be in and out without a hitch. What they don't anticipate is how hard it would be to stay uninvolved.
They find the gold, but getting away with it is not as easy as they expected. The people in the town are being tortured and killed by Saddam's troops and though they're not supposed to get involved with Iraq's internal politics, they can't just standby and watch women and children be slaughtered. They make it out of the town with most of the gold, almost without injury, but with 15 villagers as passengers. They don't get far and when one of their own is captured, they are forced to make a deal with the rebels. If they help them recover their man, they will transport all the rebels to the Iranian border safely, so they can live in freedom without fear of being murdered. Rescuing their friend will not be an easy task and it takes all of their intelligence and manpower to figure out a way to take over the bunker without losing their lives. Even if they succeed they still have to find a way to get the rebels to the border. This "simple score" has turned into something much greater, something they have to see to the end...no matter what.
Besides a clever, thoughtful and honest script, one of the big reasons to see THREE KINGS is for the way it's shot. The unusual camera work and lighting really give this film not only a great look, but an emotional subtext rarely captured, using the medium to its' greatest potential. They are living on the edge and you feel it in every frame. The lead actors do a better than average job, though most are playing characters fairly close to what they've done before. I wasn't at all surprised by the ending or by who lived and who died, but I didn't expect to care so much. This is a powerful film that won't be liked by everyone, but if you're looking for something different, THREE KINGS is one of the best films of this year.