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Three Kings movie review

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Three Kings

It begins with the most effective establishing sequence that I've seen in a long, long time, and it gets better before it gets worse -- writer/director David O. Russel guiding his characters, much like rats finding their way through a maze, through all sorts of predicaments.

Set just after the end of the Gulf War, select moments in Three Kings showcase some of the powers of cinema: the ability to entertain, to shock, to evoke thoughts and images that are more than just what it is on the screen. Most of the film is however an action/comedy/drama, as Tarlov zigzags his way across genres to produce a new sound of his own.

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Three Kings takes an interesting approach to the subject of war. You could safely call it "politically correct," even though it is not afraid to poke at the idiocies of both sides, especially America and the false hopes that George Bush fed the Iraqi people who continued to be the meat in the middle of the sandwich, and most interesting is the way the American troops react to the civilians' constant harassment from Iraqi soldiers. When George Clooney finally stands up for them, blood is spilt, the cease-fire broken, and nobody (including the audience) can predict what kind of shit is about to go down

You can feel the plot kicking in when there is a discovery of a map, from, of all places, the buttocks of an Iraqi, neatly wrapped up and sticking out of his rear. It is quickly devised that this is a valuable map -- actually, it pinpoints the locations of millions of dollars worth of gold and valuables that belong to Saddam. Four characters think dollar signs and hatch a plan under the instruction of Archie Gates (Clooney) and, only inspired by their greed, they move into a small Iraqi town. Soon they notice the distinct differences between the oppressed and desperate Iraqi civilians and the Iraqi military, and it is only a matter of time before one of them reacts. The innocent civilians are momentarily saved; the cease-fire is broken, and these US troops are left with a truckload of gold and some very angry Iraqi enemies.

Three Kings has an absorbing visual energy; Russel finds new ways to shoot key scenes, with various innovations including a couple of shots that zoom into a human body to examine the effects of a bullet wound close-up, and some terrifically effective gun-fights. Russel endeavors to keep the film feeling exciting, and he succeeds in crafting a war film that feels much more modern and fresh than the likes of 'Saving Private Ran' and 'The Thin Red Line,' strengthened by the immediate change of landscape from the sometimes exotic World War II settings to the baron plains of Iraq.

The casting of George Clooney as the most experienced and sharp-witted character was a fine choice, as he bounces off Mark Walhberg and Ice Cube, who both churn out realistic performances and share the funny moments, which thankfully aren't comprised purely of one liners. When Ice Cube throws a football rigged with explosives at a helicopter, Russel resists the temptation to let him scream "touchdown!" Ali says:
An attempt at M.A.S.H. for a new generation, this combination caper film and anti-war statement is considerably less stylish and interesting. While Luke enjoyed this film, I yearned for the fast forward or at least a glimpse of a three-dimensional character.
There are some powerful moments in the story, which sometimes come as surprises, and they grasp the emotions and emergency of scenarios in the script. The death of an innocent Iraqi woman and Mark Walhberg struggling to breathe are two moments that linger in the memory.

'Three Kings' is a very fine film, an excellent and original piece with some great moments of comedy. Towards its end, Russel slightly lets slip his wit to the emotional side of the story involving a group of Iraqi civilians struggling to get across the border to safety, but most of the time its humorous moments blend in very well with its action and drama. It's a lively film -- a different kind of war film -- a mixture of contrasting techniques and narratives.

On the Buckmaster scale of 0 stars (bomb), to 5 stars (a masterpiece): 4 stars

Send your comments or review Luke Buckmaster
Review copyright Luke Buckmaster Read more of my reviews at In Film Australia http://infilmau.iah.net
Due for Australian release January 13, 2000
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Just the facts:

Title: Three Kings (1999)
Written by: David O. Russell based on a story by John Ridley
Directed by: David O. Russell
Produced by: Charles Roven, Paul Junger Witt
Edited by:
Director of Photography: Newton Thomas Sigel
running time:

The Players: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Nora Dunn, Cliff Curtis, Sad Taghmaoui
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