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on March 29, 2000
Ok, in response to "a viewer" who asked if there was 2 screenwriters... Yes there was. What you saw was predominately David O. Russell's work. Now, I looked up in my screenwriting mag an interview with the other writer, John Ridley. I guess he wanted the film to be more action oriented, like Treasure of the Sierra Madre or Kelley's Heroes. It was mostly about getting the gold. BTW, the title of the Ridley script was The Spoils of War.
David O. Russell wanted it to be more political, and pretty much completely rewrote it completely. The Gold was the catalyst in this story, similar to the 30,000 dollars in Psycho. It is what drove the characters to get themselves into the story. Thats the part where it is not funny anymore. Where these characters get their eyes opened and are given the chance to react and become true heroes. Now, I am not going to spoil the film for you, but a lot of people complain about the ending being "too conventional" where as I think it was the best possible way to end the film. If you have a Saving Private Ryan (wonderful movie) style ending, it loses that humor, which made the film so accessible to people.
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on April 17, 2000
Proving yet again that the Academy Awards mean absolutely zilch, THREE KINGS was stiffed in every category. Oh well, a movie this good doesn't need that Hollywood Popularity Contest's blessing. It stands on it's own as one of (if not THE) best films of '99. It's certainly much more coherent and important than the good but over-praised AMERICAN BEAUTY.
The film is a real surprise. It has something that almost no other major studio film can boast (in this or any year): Moral courage. THREE KINGS harkens back to the last great era of mainstream cinema -- the '70s -- with a clear-eyed and perfectly-aimed political anger. This is not a movie that will be celebrated by members of the political right or anyone who still labors under the delusion that the United States accomplished something in "Desert Storm."
THREE KINGS balances so many different moods and changes in tone -- from black comedy to horror to righteous anger -- so expertly that it's almost a revelation in the midst of the usual pap and drivel that constitutes the bulk of American cinema these days. It's about real people making real, difficult choices, not just cardboard constructs from Screenwriting 101.
So there it is. I'll say it again: This movie really surprised me. It's kind of depressing how amazed I am these days when a movie's merely decent, much less great (as THREE KINGS definitely is). Show's you how much of what we get is pure garbage...
I bet former President Bush is a big fan of this one. I smile just thinking about that.
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on December 12, 2002
I wanted to love this movie, but wound up liking it.
The problem: The writer/director has written a brainy script, cleverly layering lots of challenging and occasionally comic ideas, but unhappily, there's too little feeling. In the end, there's something empty about Three Kings; it's interesting but not captivating. It feels like a really good op ed piece, but it doesn't linger in memory as all great films do.
The break between thought and feeling comes out plainly in the DVD extras. When the director talks about his views/research on the Gulf War, his narrative comes to life. In fact, watching this film with Russell's narrative is BETTER than watching the film itself, because the best moments in Three Kings are all idea-driven.
On the other hand, when Russell talks about conveying feeling in the film, he admits that he decided to skimp on character development and shoot for satire/farce, and he dwells on his choices of film stock, hoping cinematic effects will convey feeling not found in the writing. Sadly, Russell overbets on both hands and loses.
If you like polemical/political films with some style to them, try The Year of Living Dangerously as a comparison film. That one is as well thought out as Three Kings, and while it wears its heart on its sleeve, there are moments in that film that crackle with life and are moving as well as thought provoking.
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on June 4, 2003
Three Kings was surely inspired by Rudyard Kipling's classic adventure tale, The Man Who Would be King. Like The Man ..., Three Kings tells of rogue soldiers in rough country looking to exploit the main chance. In each tale, the soldiers' greed goes to their heads, as greed is wont to do. And there, the similarities end.
Three Kings is a rip-roaring tale that follows the misadventures of four American soldiers at the end of Desert Storm, as played by George Clooney, Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg and Spike Jonze. All are good, but the first two were revelations to me. I had never before seen Clooney in a movie, and doubted he could fill the screen. He put my doubts to rest. The guy's a movie star in the best, old-fashioned, big studio sense. He can act, and he exudes star power. Similarly, I had seen Ice Cube do capable work playing one sort of character in contemporary blaxploitation/"urban" pix (Boyz' in the Hood, New Jack City, etc.), but didn't know if he had any range. He does. His endearing, Bible-spouting character was a great challenge he made the most of. The man may now quit his day job.
In exploiting the desert milieu, Three Kings' director David O. Russell successfully mixes bawdy humor, surprises, and tense drama as befitting the movie's theme. The pic's only short-coming is its ending, which I found a bit pat.
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on May 7, 2000
This movie got a lot of hype from some of my favorite critics so I was excited to see what it was all about. Sadly, I found this film to be overrated. Three Kings had all the chances in the world to be an intellectually stunning movie, but every time the film approached an interesting subject some sort of Hollywood-ism would work its way in and the exploration would be destroyed. Case in point, a helicopter attacking our heroes is brought down by a C-4 laced football. This comes around at a time when the movie wants us to take things seriously as oil is poured down a soldiers throat to attempt to show the true nature of the gulf war. You can't be smart and stupid at the same time.
The attempt of this movie was at dark comedy, not war. This would work brilliantly but the film is stocked with so many typical Hollywood fight scenes that it becomes in your mind a bad war film rather than good comedy. The movie dragged on and explored nothing. They teased the audience by approaching the subjects of the media and oil but all the film came down to was greed. "Gold Solves Everything" could have been the title. The four soldiers find the gold early in the movie and from there it becomes barter to get them out of all of their sticky situations. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, we approach a big ending which sadly disappoints you by being so clean and simplistic. Once again our friend, the gold, makes an appearance and solves everything!
The directing was bold and the acting good, but it doesn't make the movie hold on its own. The interesting camera shots grab your attention and add a lot of flare but in the end it's just all camera trickery and you are left with a sub-par experience.
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on April 28, 2000
'Three Kings' was an entertaining but improbable action flick. It seems to be a war movie, but it is really a story about a gold heist. The characters just happen to be soldiers in Iraq in the aftermath of operation Desert Storm. Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) learns of a map found by Sergeant Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) and upon investigating, deduces it is a map of bunkers where Kuwait's gold is hidden. Together they set out to find it and steal it for themselves. This is a mild purloining of a similar plot from 'Kelly's Hero's', just changing the war (A bunch of soldiers learn about a German bank with gold bullion during WWII and decide to go into enemy territory on an unauthorized mission to steal it for themselves). 'Three Kings' attempts to take itself a lot more seriously than 'Kelly's Heroes' did, though there are numerous light moments throughout the film.
The story required a lot of contrivance to make it even remotely believable, but as action films go, it wasn't totally outrageous. The comedy worked well and there were a lot of interesting insights into American perceptions of the war versus the Iraqi perspective. There were a number of reminders of the human toll that war takes on both sides and that the enemy is comprised of real people with feelings much like our own.
The direction by David O. Russell was good, but he tried to get a bit to artsy with what was really a straight action flick. His opening explanation of the colors and exposures came across as insecure; almost apologetic. To his credit, the action scenes were well done, except we really didn't need to track the path of each bullet in super slow motion during that one firefight. I think we also could have done without the organ cam peek inside Barlow's guts.
The acting was well done all around. George Clooney gives another fine performance as the smart, hard nosed action hero. His deadpan style works well in this type of film. Despite his no nonsense demeanor, he is effective in subtly letting it be known that beneath the tough self centered exterior, there is compassion and a sense of what is right.
Mark Wahlberg also delivers a strong portrayal of a regular Joe reservist, trying to be the tough soldier. Wahlberg walks a fine line between vulnerability and machismo and pulls it off admirably.
Overall, this is an entertaining guy flick with some credibility problems that are easy to overlook. I rated it a 7/10.
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on June 18, 2000
This film definitely has its quirks and flaws but I think it was one of the best ones of 1999. It is an honest and humorous examination of the Gulf War and of the treachery of American policy toward the Iraqi rebels that America promissed to support. Like "Saving Private Ryan" this film contains gritty battle field realism, but of a totally different sort. "Three Kings" displays the kind of battle field ambiguity that can result in soldiers being killed unnecessarily. It also demonstrates in a unique and grisly fashion what a bullet wound does to internal organs. Most importantly, "Three Kings" reminds us that the Iraqis are people too. The rebels who resist Sadam Hussein only want to open businesses and lead a peaceful life. The Iraqi soldier who tortures an American is himself a victim of the Americans since his wife was maimed and his child killed by American bombs. This does not justify his brutality, but it puts the audience in the awkward position of understanding its origins.
This film deals with complex and difficult themes without preaching. It has its hokey and over done moments (Chief takes out an Iraqi helicopter by throwing a mined football at it.) but it's still worth it.
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on December 21, 2000
War movies have, generally speaking, fallen into two distinct catagories up till now: 'war is bad!' movies and 'war is good!' movies. The latter was used as propaganda to raise moral during wartime. The former was only made critically fashioable in the 70s by the creator of the epitome of hellish war movies, Francis Coppola (Apocalypse Now). And continued in the 80s with Oliver Stone (Platoon, Born on the 4th of July) and Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket), who practically invented the war-comedy with 'Dr. Strangelove'. But rather than taking the specific stance that 'War is bad!' David O. Russell uses the most recent American war, as a backdrop for a treasure hunt-comedy-drama, while making some serious points, on the mistakes America made in entering the conflict, and the mistakes they made in leaving it.
Though highly stylised, the violence is brutal and explicit, the consequences of which - mostly the pain and suffering of the mourning relatives of the dead - echoes throughout the film, and as such, is not glossed over by the action sequences, but is made more meaningful - as we watch more death and carnage overshadow previous deaths which are still in recent memory. The heroes are also not indestructible, like other action heroes: a minor theme of the film is the varying degrees of damage a bullet can do to the human body. George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg are a great double act, while Spike Jonze continues to show is talents in completely different areas.
In using different film stocks and color filters, cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel has created a bleached out world of sand and dust, while preserving the deep, rich colors of the sky, and the characters' clothes etc. It's a unique visual experience on a par with 'Fight Club'. Eye candy, but of the cerebral variety. 1999 has produced one of the greatest group of films since the golden era of Hollywood, and 'Three Kings' is a crucial member. David O. Russell has created a whole new kind of war film. It's a comedy, a drama, a road movie, an action movie, a satire. It's got a light atmosphere and tone, but containbs some very serious themes, and some highly critical comments about the American involvement in the Gulf War.
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on May 11, 2000
It's nice to see that every so often, Hollywood can produce something really special. Three Kings never really pushes its message onto you, instead letting you make your own mind up, and if you don't really care about that then you can enjoy the dark humour and funny set-pieces. Wait until you see the bullet through the body moment...a fine case of violence on screen actually sensitising you, not desensitising you! A mainstream film with independent sensibilities is quite an accomplishment. The DVD doesn't spare on the extras. The deleted scenes are short and pretty pointless, but the commentary from director Russell is engaging and quite informative. Best of all is the video journal, taking you through Russell's problems making the film which he recorded himself, running to a good fifteen or so minutes. It's a nice change from the PR stuff you usually get on these things. Warner Bros always give good films some great extras, which isn't usually the case with other studios, so it's no surprise to see the quality of this package.. Three Kings is well worth your hard-earned cash, as the more we reward films like these, the more of them will be made.
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on June 17, 2000
Three Kings is, in my opinion, the fifth best film of 1999 (after The Insider, The Green Mile, Being John Malkovich, and The Sixth Sense). The story of three (actually four) soldiers secretly going out into the desert after Saddam's gold resembles the story of The Gulf War. The soldiers head out for purely selfish reasons, just like America did. We as a United Nations didn't and still doesn't really care about the Kuwaiti peoples, we were only concerned with our oil interests in the middle east. These soldiers learn to care about the Arabs and their perdicement and later try to help them. Now if only America could have such a heart, or any heart at all for that matter. The film also shows that only a handful of Arabs fit that sick, racist (yes, I said racist) steriotype that all Arabs are zealous Muslim terrorists bent on nothing but destroying America. But hey, if your a superpower I guess you'll always need a faceless enemy.... This film will show that Arabs are PEOPLE, not animals we need to fear. So see Three Kings.
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