On paper this should have been no more than a vanity project, after all look at some of the key personell…
– An Ex-Soap Star
– A guy once more famous for his underwear and short lived rapping career
– A real rapper famous for proclaiming Fuck Tha Police
– A gonzo director more famed for making music videos and who he was dating
Fortunately these actors were George Clooney, Mark (Marky-Mark) Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze respectively, and together they helped make Three Kings one of the better mainstream films of the last 15 years, even though not much about it is actually mainstream.
The Gulf War (I not II) has just ended, and confusion and chaos reigns as formerly focussed and switched on US soldiers blow off some steam and kill time instead of Iraqis. They all think that their work is done and that the worst is over.
And it is. For most of them.
It is when cleaning up a bunch of cheese-eating surrender-monkeys (a Simpsons line, I’ve been dying to use it somewhere) that Sergeant Troy Barlow (Marky-Mark) and his friend Conrad (Jonze) discover what looks to be a map tucked deep betwixt the forbidden valley of an Iraqi soldier.
How it came to be there is irrelevant, why someone would think that the discovery of 15cm of rolled up A4 up one’s arse wasn’t going to raise an eyebrow is. And that’s before you ponder the distinct possibility or papercuts! War is indeed hell.
Back on base the two soldiers and Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) ponder what exactly it is directing them too. This is sorted out quick fast in a hurry upon the arrival of Major Archie Gates (Cloontang) who heard of the map through rumours and decided to see for himself. Gates was supposed to be seeing out the remainder of his tour, and career, in easy fashion by escorting a reporter Adriana Cruz around and taking her to cover soft stories.
So with the ass-map in hand (Eeeewwww) and a number of possibilities facing them the 4 soldiers decide to investigate what exactly the spot maked X has in store. I say 4 because firstly they decide to send Ms Cruz off on a wild goose chase so that they might sneak around uninterrupted.
Each of the four have different reasons for wanting to follow the map:
- Barlow, a new Dad simply feels that he found the thing and therefore has “spotter’s rights”, he also doesn’t want to relinquish this opportunity to others.
- Conrad simply thinks the sun (not a map) shines out of Barlow’s arse and will follow him wherever he goes.
- Chief is curious as to what they might find, but feels that any score is better than going back to his menial everyday existence as an airport baggage handler.
- And Gates has 2 weeks to go and just doesn’t give a fuck.
With Cruz long gone the 4 set off in a borrowed Humvee, after some missteps and diversions they find what they were hoping for, a secret bunker filled with stolen goods and Saddam Hussein’s gold stash taken from Kuwait. More serious than that though is another find…
In the absence of US supervision the Iraqi troops diverted their attention to crushing any public insurgence in the most abrupt and brutal manner possible, including torture, starvation and mass murder. It is in the town which hid the bunker that they find a small group of refugees who it seems have been earmarked for death, something highlighted in graphic fashion in front of the soldier’s eyes. Though not all in unison it is agreed that they must also save these innocent people, even though it is against the express orders of the army to intervene, meaning as well as 50 odd suitcases filled with gold the soldiers are now escorting perhaps a dozen civilians out of the small town to safety.
This is where the fun really starts. When the escape goes awry and they are left without transport the group grows substantially. Having to think on their feet the soldiers make an agreement with the refugees to help each other, the refugees will assist in carrying the stolen booty as long as the soldiers agree to take them to the border and safety.
Sounds straightforward enough…
Three Kings is a mish-mash of genres and it isn’t afraid to try any number of things to keep the audience on their toes. Just when it seems to be going one way it switches, then again and again.
The director (good old insane David O. Russell) neatly balances action, drama, tension and political commentary along the way, but don’t be too concerned, if you don’t want to learn something you can just watch the people getting shot. Violence is used to great effect simply by holding it back for long periods of time, and when it does arrive it is often quite sudden and unexpected. There is a torture scene that isn’t especially over the top or violent, but it sure seems that way when you are watching it.
The clever techniques and cutaways never detract from the main plot though, nor do they seem a little too smarty-pants for their own good. Despite the presence of many actors that were in their day cool, hip and newsworthy, Three Kings never tries to be any of those things… So it is.
Three Kings is smarter than 90% of movies made in the last couple decades and different to 99% of other action movies. Every time I watch it I am blown away with how good it actually is.
If you haven’t seen it maybe you will be too.
Final Rating – 9 / 10. The refusal to adhere to genre is why Three Kings has never been given the credit it deserves (I think the nutso reputation of the director hasn’t helped either), but it is exactly what makes this film great.