Three Kings(Warner Bros.) is easily one of the best movies of the year. Filled with indelible images and written in a colloquial manner, the film could be a major contender when the Oscars roll around in March.
Starring a one-time television actor and two rappers turned movie stars, it is easy to see why many people may write this film off. George Clooney (“E.R.”), Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights) and Ice Cube (The Player’s Club) will exceed many movie-goers’ low expectations coming into the film.
All three actors are excellent in their roles: Clooney as Archie Gates, Wahlberg as Troy Barlow and Ice Cube as Chief Elgin. These men are low on America’s social scale, with marginal jobs and high aspirations. They enter the war believing the army can help them attain their dreams.
Casting these particular actors was a conscious choice by director/writer David Russell (Flirting with Disaster). While Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise may draw people, they would have sacrificed the integrity of the film. Could you see Cruise as a baggage clerk in an airport or a grunt in the army?
Because of the United States’ recent forays into Yugoslavia and Bosnia, the film has a poignancy that one may not expect. The film is set in 1991, current by movie standards. Three Kings explores the vast but unexplored historical event. The Gulf War is largely an untapped resource, and Three Kings far surpasses the only previous film involving Desert Storm in its plot, Courage Under Fire.
The film is on par with Saving Private Ryan in terms of its respect and treatment of a poignant moment in American history. The film, however, has a much lighter tone than Saving Private Ryan.
Three Kings continually asks the viewer to see things from a perspective other than the popular viewpoint. It offers constant social commentary on topics like America’s motivation for entering the war and a critique of race relations in the United States. Even Rodney King’s beating makes a guest appearance. The middle section of the film, when Barlow is captured, interrogated and tortured by a member of Saddam Hussein’s army, is one of the most powerful one-on-one dialogues in American filmmaking this year.
Unfortunately, this film is being marketed completely wrong, and may be overlooked by many movie-goers. Three Kings is not an action film. Few bullets are fired during the film, which lasts for more than two hours. The three or four explosions that occur are all packed into the two-minute preview. The shots fired are powerful, and their significance is demonstrated by the fact that audience members follow them from the barrel of the gun into the human body.
Movie-goers, however, need to give the film a chance. The first 40 minutes, concerning the main characters’ scam to steal Iraqi gold, is a little lighthearted and played for laughs. Once the protagonists realize that it is their moral obligation to help the rebels, the tone and mood of the film changes dramatically – and for the better.
In the end, Three Kings will show even the most jaded movie-goer that Hollywood, not just the independent movie industry, can turn out an excellent product.
Three Kings opens in theaters Friday.