Great, a movie about the Gulf War. I feel old. Does this mean that we are running out of creative ways to retell the past that we, as a culture, are cannibalizing our recent past so soon? If Three Kings is any indication, the answer is a rocket-propelled, heat-seeking no.
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In a wonderfully cynical look at the War to Save the Gas Prices, Three Kings at first pretends to be a tale of pillaging after the fighting is over. Soldiers Troy Barlow (Marky Mark Wahlberg), Chief Elgin (Ice Cube, forever threatening to beat your cracker a$$, bless his heart), and Conrad Vig (Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze, who may have sniffed glue to prepare for the role) find a treasure map tucked away in an Iraqi buttcrack. The three are forced to take along Officer Archie Gates (George Clooney, who has now perfected the one character in his repertoire), who threatens to report them if he isn’t let in on the fun. So they’re off to find the treasure, the wonderful treasure of Kuwait. But along the way, they find mines and refus and Iraqis, oh my.
This movie is darkly comic. It opens with Barlow encountering an Iraqi soldier waving from a nearby dune. “Are we shooting?” he asks. Without a response to go on, he decides to shoot the Iraqi in the neck. As the other soldiers cheer the only kill they’ve seen all war, Barlow shies away in embarrassment. And that’s when they take the souvenir picture.
The bulk of Three Kings’s jibes are directed at the Gulf War being a media war; that is, not a real war, more of a PR effort. There is no discernible fighting for the troops, just reports of bombings. After the war ends, the Iraqi soldiers hardly notice the American troops. The Iraqis are too busy herding up and slaughtering their own citizens, whom George Bush had rallied to rise up against Saddam and then abandoned.
As it may sound to this point, Three Kings wears its politics stitched to its sleeve, right below the fresh Private stripe. There’s a good bit of obvious anti-war blathering, specifically about the Gulf War. This preachy anti-war streak feels about as subtle as a cluster bomb. They used tried and true methods of establishing the enemy’s common humanity, usually through trite monologues and inventive film techniques. This sort of thing was not nearly as effective as the severe lampooning they gave the war, or as effective as similar techniques have been displayed in other war movies, like Saving Private Ryan.
Naturally, as a war movie, we get treated to a few bits of action. Unfortunately, the emphasis is on few and not action in that sentence. These guys do get to shoot a few towelheads (which is the Chief Elgin approved Iraqi slur, as opposed to “dune coon” or “sand n*gger”), though the Iraqi soldiers generally fold when the Americans threaten them. The sequences we do get treated to, though, are real treats. David O. Russell is a man who knows his choreography. The battles unfold realistically (as much as peace-lovin’ me can tell – I’m a lover, not a fighter, after all) and at a blazing pace, even with slo-mo.
I was kind of disappointed with this film after all the raves and hype that I’d heard. It was a good flick, sure, but not stunning. A little slow in places, but well worth the price of a rental for the comedy and gentle sand-kicking in the eye of that 98-pound weakling of a war.
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