Three Kings (1999)

Not your average, sympathetic war film.

George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube star as a group of American soldiers stationed in Iraq at the end of the Gulf War. When the three arguably wise men find a map they believe will take them to a huge cache of stolen Kuwaiti gold hidden near their base, they embark on a secret mission that’s destined to change everything.

The Gulf War just seems like a war that was basically a total joke. It only lasted for about a year, if not even that, and barely anybody got killed in it. So it was pretty cool to see a fun take on a war, that didn’t seem even energetic at all.

David O. Russell is a crazy mofo, but is a really great director. The one strength that Russell uses here is that he blends drama, action, and a little hint of comedy altogether but it doesn’t once get annoying like most films that blend genres do. The fact that this isn’t like any other war film is not the real reason it’s great it’s because of what this film does and actually talks about. Russell does some pretty innovative stuff here with his direction, whether it’s using a slow-mo shot to show the bullets hitting a person, or a moving image of the sky, or even an awesome image of showing what sepsis wound looks like. Russell is a very gritty director and he uses this to his ability, to bring out the real dirt and mud that was The Gulf War.

The real strength of this film is located within it’s script that Russell did himself as well. The real reason why this script works so well is because the drama is here and ways heavy on the story, there are still many moments of actual dark comedy that will probably have you laughing and wondering just exactly why you laughed here. The story starts off really quick and comedic with the sounds of The Beach Boys in the air, but soon changes into a very dark, haunting, and disturbing take on the war. You start to really get behind this story because the satire is there, and the political commentary which comments on the U.S.A’s involvement with foreign affairs will ring true and actually have you very angry as to where this story starts to take you. But this is also an action film and there’s plenty of enough thrills and spills to hold over any adrenaline junkie, but it’s more a political critique than an action/war film.

My only problem with this film is that sometimes I do feel like Russell get’s a little out-of-hand with the artistic side of his directing. I’m not going to lie, he does some pretty cool stuff here with everything he shows, but there are many times that I feel like he just gets a little too over his head with this artsy-fartsy crap he does. Also, by the end of the film it does get a little preachy, but I have to say this didn’t totally bother me, I just noticed it right away.

George Clooney and David O. Russell got in a huge brawl on-set during the filming of this film, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t turn in a good performance himself. Clooney basically plays the George Clooney he plays in every film but it always work because he has that cool vibe that always helps his character’s and is just totally sweet and smooth. He is all of that and a little more here as Archie Gates. Mark Wahlberg is amazing here as Troy Barlow because his character is a very human person that just wants to do what is right, and never wants to just kill anyone to kill anyone. Ice Cube is also great as the black grunt, Chief Elgin, and it’s kind of sad to watch this, knowing that this is his last film that actually showed that he any street cred left. Damn TBS! Spike Jonze is also very funny and good as the dumb hick, Conrad Vig, and it’s a very rare performance because now that Jonze has found his niche as a director, we may never see him in front of the screen again. This is a pretty strange head-lining cast but they all do real well with this very challenging material that gives them the opportunity to show their dramatic depths as actors, as well as their comedic timing too and they pull it off. The rest of the cast is very good as well with the likes of Jamie Kennedy, Judy Greer, and Mykelti Williamson aka Bubba.

Consensus: Though it gets a little preachy by the end, David O Russell’s Three Kings is still a smart and innovative blend of action, drama, war, and comedy that shows The Gulf War for the crap that it was and how we can all learn from our mistakes.



  1. At this point I started to like what Wahlberg could bring to a movie….especially after his remarkable turn in “Boogie Nights” I didn’t think I’d like this because the trailer doesn’t do it justice. I think the bantering back and forth between the characters makes it stand out. You’re right….a good combo of comedy….action…..and even drama.

  2. What happened to Ice Cube. He used to be all hard and gangsta. It’s ironic that he rapped about MC Hammer going soft and then, he made those stupid “Are We There Yet?” films.

    Someone revoke his ghetto pass, please!

  3. I really don’t see the artistic side of Russell. He seems like a standard workman director. I really don’t get why he garners such acclaim.

    • He does have a good style that works well here, but The Fighter didn’t have much style, just more of the fun that boxing films needed.

  4. I LOVE this film – up there with APOCALYPSE NOW and FULL METAL JACKET as my favourite war movie(s). It is a little preachy, but I think the film earns it…it also feels depressingly relevant now we’re well into the Second Gulf War.

    In addition to the great blending of genres, I love the way it satires typical action films; the way the soldiers dive out of the way of the exploding truck in slow motion only to find out it’s filled with milk, or that moment when Wahlberg tries to bust down a door with his shoulder and just ends up with a bruised shoulder.

    My one problem with the film? I should be called FOUR KINGS! Jonze might give the best performance of any of the leads, but he’s not even featured on the DVD box!!!

    Great review as always Dan!

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