Three Kings (1999)
November 6, 2014 1:25 PM - Subscribe

SPIRIT OF 99 - March 1991. The war just ended. Kuwait has been liberated, President Bush has negotiated a ceasefire with barely any conflict, and there's thousands of US troops running roughshod over the Iraqi desert. Three (or so) of them venture off-base in search of a purported bunker full of Saddam's gold.

DID EBERT LIKE IT? - "Three Kings" is some kind of weird masterpiece, a screw-loose war picture that sends action and humor crashing head-on into each other and spinning off into political anger.

The Trailer

THE BEST - Casting. Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze were inspired left-field choices for key supporting characters. Saïd Taghmaoui is riveting as Captain Saïd.

THE WORST - David O. Russell is a horrible director who makes great films.
posted by carsonb (9 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you're watching this on DVD, check to see whether it includes commentary from the executive producers. They basically explain what has to happen, business-wise, in order for a movie to get made. Not the usual sort of film commentary but I found it riveting.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:36 PM on November 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

God, I love this movie. More thoughts after the MST3K re watch.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:46 PM on November 6, 2014

Also if you're watching this on DVD, some editions include a special feature documentary wherein Ice Cube provides a master class on acting technique. It is the only acting training you will ever need.

Legit: I love this movie, it's one of my favourites of that year.
posted by dogwalker at 5:14 PM on November 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have to track this down and watch it again. I remember thinking it was brilliant until somewhere in the back half of act two, at which point it kind of slacked off and coasted home. But it had so much momentum built up from the first two thirds or so that it mostly got away with it.

A few really fantastic bits... "What is wrong with Michael Jackson?"
posted by Naberius at 8:21 AM on November 7, 2014

For me, this movie really crystallized my feelings on war. Talk of necessity, then act on a whim; justifications and reasonings that sound plausible but don't hold up to scrutiny. And not just about going somewhere and killing the locals, that hollow soul of reason inherent in war is just as applicable to war reporting, journalism in the 24-hour news cycle, the American Dream as international fantasy, consumerism and car culture—all that shit.

Naberius, I think you're right that the plotting of the film suffers from it's hectic arc. The characters set out to do one thing and wind up going in a totally different direction, and the film doesn't dole out the usual references and foreshadowing that allows audiences to follow along with that sort of intrusion-of-reality style. But you're also right that it mostly gets away with it by being interesting and engaging in various ways.

The look of the film is incredible. Having not seen the film in a decade or so, I was expecting the visual style to look a bit dated, having presumably been developed and improved upon by Hollywood in the intervening years, but the grainy intensity and saturated/desaturated look of Three Kings holds up rather well. And the quirks, like the bullet animations and slow-motion action scenes and the weird jump cuts and freezes are all beautifully incorporated and arresting in their affect.

And I'll repeat myself here a bit, but Ice Cube and Spike Jonze were such a delight to watch. They made their characters really work.
posted by carsonb at 8:51 AM on November 7, 2014

So I came to this film not knowing a thing about it; it had just come out and my then-bf said he wanted to see it and I'll admit I went reluctantly because it sounded too serious for a Sunday morning and ugh George Clooney, really? I now consider it a greatly underrated political movie. The review by Roger Ebert, linked above, really sums up my feelings.

It does throw me for a loop, though, because despite the topic it's really a fun ride but by the end I am always crying and angry, which of course is the goal of the movie. To be honest, it's one of those movies that I always stop and watch if I come across it on TV, and it's one of the few movies I have on DVD so I re-watch it on my own, but I never, ever watch the ending.

I was expecting the visual style to look a bit dated

It's hard to remember that at the time it was innovative! And I agree that it really holds up well.

I think my favorite little bit is Private Vig's day job. And for some reason there are a ton of things I read on all parts of MeFi that always make the words "ass map" pop into my head.

I'm glad this got posted to FanFare, because maybe a few people who would have otherwise dismissed it will give it a chance.

Oh, and the movie made me an insta-fan of both Clooney and Wahlberg.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:11 AM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

This movie is a little piece of genius. It's my all-time favorite antiwar movie. Also, it's so *funny*. I will never get over the night-vision goggles in the desert in the middle of the day. Every time I see that guy, I think of a particular relative, nod my head, and say, "Yep. I'm amazed they got them off before they got him on the plane home."
posted by epj at 12:48 PM on November 7, 2014

After reading the Wikipedia entry it's suddenly no surprise to learn that David O. Russell was the director for I Heart Huckabees, which I remember having a pretty vicious on-set argument in the DVD extras.
posted by TwoWordReview at 12:58 PM on November 7, 2014

I watched Three Kings, American Beauty, and Fight Club back-to-back-to-back one Sunday in 1999. I liked the visuals in Fight Club, hated-hated-hated American Beauty, and really only remember the chest wound and "shit! Gold's heavy" scene from Three Kings.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:47 AM on December 28, 2014

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