Three Kings

Three Kings

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

If old war was hell, new war is zany. The opening shot of David O Russell's highly original postscript to Desert Storm is surreal enough to make you wonder whether you have wandered into a sci-fi flick by mistake.

The conflict has just ended and these soldiers have neither fired a gun in anger, nor seen a man die. They get drunk, jump up and down, look happy for the news cameras - because that's what GIs do these days, perform for the media - while Major Archie Gates (George Clooney), two weeks away from retirement, is giving the lissom blonde TV reporter a quickie in the communications tent.

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What begins as MASH, without the medics, ends on the Iranian border with some stolen ingots and a bunch of frightened refugees. How Russell gets from here to there is a miracle of invention. Or, to put it another way, he follows his instincts, based on the understanding that all good plans fall to pieces when faced with the reality of chaos.

It starts with a map, discovered up the anus of a PoW. Sergeant Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) study it secretly, without informing their CO. When Gates finds out, he insists that it shows where the the plundered Kuwaiti gold is stashed. He orders one of his men to take the TV news crew on a wild goose chase to get them out of the way, requisitions a vehicle and with Barlow, Elgin and Private Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze), an educationally challenged grunt, fourth class, heads off at dawn in search of Saddam's hoard.

Russell mixes the antics and inane stupidity of this merry band with the far more serious subject of an American foreign policy that pays lip service to the freedom of oppressed people, while only coming to the aid of undemocratic countries, when it is expedient.

The look of the film is astonishing, washed out colour reflecting the greys of battle-dress and desert, the theatre of war a wasteland, pitted with mines, charred corpses and bits of truck. Almost every Iraqi soldier has the Saddam tache and F Murray Abraham is not playing the underground rebel leader.

Russell's script is uncompromising, until the end, when a glimmer of generousity is allowed to filter through the smog of cynicism. The plot lurches from surprise to disorder to flight to shock/horror to luck to barbed wire, without the use of signposts. The performers commit wholeheartedly, even (Marky Mark) Wahlberg, who has never showed much application to the actor's craft, despite a certain notoriety after Boogie Nights. As an action movie, it is subversive. As a radical comedy, it is not short on ideas. Don't be fooled into thinking this is just another buddy-buddy war picture. It is something really rather unique.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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In the wake of the Gulf War, a group of soldiers conspire to steal a pile of gold bullion.
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Director: David O Russell

Writer: David O Russell

Starring: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Cliff Curtis, Nora Dunn, Jamie Kennedy, Saïd Taghmaoui, Mykelti Williamson, Holt McCallany, Judy Greer

Year: 1999

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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