Three Kings (David O Russell, 1999)

Three Kings

This might have been a tad miss-sold, as I definitely had the impression that it was a ‘crime caper’, a tale of three marines in Iraq retrieving stolen Kuwaiti gold. I mean, it has that as the initial set-up but it becomes so much more.

Ok, so Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) retrieves a map hiddenin the anus of a surrendering Iraqi soldier and, with his friend Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze) and Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), decides not to declare this to his superiors but to find out what it is himself. Before he can act, he is interrupted by Special Services Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) who has found out about the map and wants in on the discovery, taking control of the situation which he runs as an unofficial military operation. Deciding that this is Kuwaiti gold, they set off, having set some misdirection in case they are followed (Gates’ job involves liasing with US TV reporters) and giving themselves an alibi in case they are discovered by US troops.

Initially, this really follows the template as expected – there is a hilarious scene in which the marines practice their assertive approach to the Iraqis in front of a cow – but it is when things start to go wrong that the film really starts to get interesting, casting a darkly ironic gaze on the well-intentioned but pusillanimous policies of the US in the wake of the first Gulf War, and the unintended harms done. We see how the Iraqi resistance was abandoned to Sadaam Hussain’s forces, effectively kept in power by the US policy of ‘non-interference’ in domestic Iraqi affairs.

Alternately hilarious and heart-breaking, Three Kings is a feelgood film that manages to throw in a little food for thought along the way.

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