Three Kings

1999, Movie, R, 115 mins


An astonishing movie that keeps you off-balance from the first scene. It starts out a wisecracking, cynical action lark about four Gulf War GIs who see a way to steal a fortune. It ends up a sadly resigned indictment of market-driven American foreign policy, wrapped in a sneakily moving story of personal sacrifice and small, compromised victories snatched from cruel anarchy. That actually counts for a happy ending without feeling like a commercial cop out, and the whole thing is often mordantly funny to boot — what a balancing act! Sgt. Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and enlisted men Chief (Ice Cube) and Vig (Spike Jonze) come into possession of a map that shows the location of a bunker full of gold. With the help of thoroughly disaffected special-forces operative Major Archie Gates (George Clooney), they decide to make it their going-away present. "Saddam stole it from the sheiks. I have no problem stealing it from him," says Gates by way of clearing up the heist's ethical dimension, pointing out that amid the post-cease-fire pandemonium, no-one will notice or care what they're doing. Naturally, it doesn't go as easily as they anticipate. Surprisingly, they get sucked into helping a group of anti-Hussein Iraqi refugees who know their only hope of post-war survival lies in fleeing the country before the American military pulls out. The GIs are fairly decent guys, in a lazy kind of way, capable of pretending that wrong is right until somehow utter bloody chaos marches them, one baby step at a time, into doing the right thing at the moment when it stands to cost them the most. This is an amazing leap for writer-director David O. Russell, who graduates from sharply observed, small-scale stories about screwed-up families to a thought-provoking dispatch from a profoundly screwed-up world. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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