When I saw this originally, I remembered being impressed that George Clooney had ditched the head tilt finally started acting. I also thought it was a genuinely great film. Twenty years later, I see a lot of warts and caveats, but I still think it’s a really fine film, and The Flower agreed. The Boy, on the other hand, hated it. And it pissed him off that we liked it. But it pissed him off because he realized he had the wrong mindset going in, and with that mindset, well, all of a movies’ glaring faults tend to pop out at you.
For those who don’t know, Three Kings is essentially an uncredited remake (or “update”, if you prefer) of Kelly’s Heroes, and instead of Clint Eastwood and the Donalds Sutherland and Rickles, you get Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and the Cube Ice. Wahlberg and Cube find an ass-map (well?) pointing to Saddam’s gold hoard and plot to go in and grab it. It’s a simple plan—aren’t they always?—although I wondered how on earth they were going to transport it anywhere where they could actually retrieve any of it at a later point.
Of course, it doesn’t even go that smoothly, with them stumbling over the victims of the war that just ended, Iraqis who have heeded George H. W. Bush’s call to rise up against Saddam, only to be left in the lurch.
Now, clearly, that’s a shot at H.W. Just as clearly, to me, it’s well-deserved. Unmentioned, of course, is that he stuck to the U.N. charter rather than unilaterally invade Iraq, and every single attack you could level at him for stopping was flipped around when his son finished the job. (And a lot of what G.H.W. Bush foresaw as a consequence of an Iraqi invasion came to pass under his son.)
But I was fine with that POV in this movie then and now because it’s very clearly a POV. Not all the characters agree, none are shown to be particularly right or righteous, and even their individual acts of heroism are thrown into sharp contrast with the fragile reality of a post-war situation. Their attempts to be selfish fail spectacularly and their attempts to be heroic run the risk of failing even more spectacularly.
One thing was odd to me: I remembered Ice Cube’s character having a special relationship with God and I would’ve sworn that he said, at one point, that God had stopped talking to him. But I didn’t see that in this cut, perhaps because I dreamed it.
Carter Burwell’s score is terrific.
Also: The special effects, which are used in that distinctly late-’90s, not-quite-CGI way, have some great moments, as in the depiction of what happens when you get shot in the gut, are very memorable.
The atmosphere is good. One suspects a less than flawless understanding of the military, not quite as bad as Stripes, mind you, but not great. (On the other hand, others have said it’s remarkably accurate in a lot of places.)
It didn’t get nominated for any Oscars, though it was certainly a breakout for David O. Russell who would go on to to direct The Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, with their back-to-back Best Picture nominations. Also, he’d get #metooed because by all accounts, he’s a maniac on the set.
Anyway, it’s a good movie, and joins a prestigious list of other movies (Fight Club, The Matrix, The Iron Giant) that would also not be nominated for Best Picture, and of course those that were nominated (The Green Mile, The Sixth Sense, The Cider House Rules and The Insider) which would lose to American Beauty.