Three Kings Review

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During the Gulf War, four american G.I.'s go on a treasure hunt to find some stolen gold.


Up until now the Gulf War was deemed a little too close for comfort to get all 'Nam revisionist about. On hypocritical grounds of taste, this so-called "media war" was considered out-of-bounds, apart from the odd sturdy thriller like 1996's Courage Under Fire. Adios to delicacy, because David O. Russell's battering ram of a war movie has bypassed the usual 15 years of telling-it-as-it-wasn't filmmaking to go straight for the historical jugular. Throwing caution to the desert wind, he tosses slices of Catch 22, Tarantino, Leone's Spaghetti Westerns, MAS*H and Saving Private Ryan's verisimilitude into the movie blender to create a violent, blackly comic, ultra-cool, anti-war satire. A visual powerhouse, visceral rock-concert of a movie, Three Kings is limited only by a clumsy quest for moral redemption at its rather flaky close. It may upset (it's kind of meant to). It may disturb (yes, that too). It may treat good-taste like a fungal growth. But it's one of the most wide-awake movies to trip out of Hollywood in many a moon. And it's got George Clooney in shades and army fatigues which is about as cinematic as you can get.

Covering the full variation of Hollywood machismo, a posse of Desert Storm troopers - combat veteran Archie Gates (Clooney), earnest rookie Troy Barlow (Wahlberg), tough guy Chief Elgin (Cube), brainless jabbermouth redneck Conrad Vig (Jonze) - turn radical opportunists having retrieved a treasure map, leading to stolen Kuwaiti bullion, out of the arse of an Iraqi prisoner. We're in post-surrender Iraq, so the plan is to "officially" retrieve the gold from among the piles of materialist plunder in an enemy bunker and then leg it to safety. No fuss. No bullets. Inevitably, this has to go haywire - after all, we've got movie imperatives to fulfil here (heists never go according to plan). What pulls the highly-charged screenplay back from the precipice of predictability is the war-ravaged world the amoral foursome are suddenly exposed to.

In a blistering stand-off (another movie convention redefined), they are faced with the blind cruelty of the rag tag Iraqi army shooting dead the wife of a suspected rebel leader. In a split second and by way of a some dazzling visual pyrotechnics (the combat is shot like a whirligig, acid trip variation of The Matrix's slick flo-mo), the ceasefire is cracked open and the boys are forced into a flux of moral dilemmas (helping the rebels, keeping the gold, getting captured, dodging a court marshal, staying alive).

For sheer brio, only Fight Club has recently come close to the giddy fervour and exhaustive excitement generated by Russell's extremist ideas (including the graphically yucky truth about a bullet's internal damage) and inspired direction, as the film caustically dismantles American foreign policy (fiercely exposing just how the world views America) and the easy pigeon-holing of Iraqis as towel-head bad guys. The actors drum up some manic chemistry, with Clooney's drop dead charisma and Jonze's dweeby pathos standing out as the film's wisdom and comedy respectively. The only slip is the final loss of nerve, dishing up a pat redemption entirely at odds with all the calculated cynicism - but it doesn't dent the effect. By turns hysterically funny and just plain hysterical, this is a compelling, shocking, razzmatazz event of a war movie cum Western cum heist thriller cum media satire... Oh, see it yourself.

A mis-mash of styles makes this film as genre defying as it is compelling.