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Review by Jay Rittenberg

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Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell, based on the story by John Ridley
Starring: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Nora Dunn, and Spike Jonze

I made the same mistake most other moviegoers did. I assumed incorrectly. I perceived Three Kings to be yet another macho action picture. The type of picture that eventually winds up on one of Ted Turner's cable channels. You know the type: movies for guys who like movies. I couldn't have been more wrong! David O. Russell's memorable picture is much more than just a guy movie or a war picture; it successfully is able to mix humor and drama resulting in one of those kind of pictures that can satisfy both men and women audiences alike.

Not only is George Clooney able to follow up his breakthrough role in Out of Sight with some superior work in a superior film, but Mark Wahlberg proves that Boogie Nights was no fluke with some bravo supporting work to the former ER star, while Ice Cube continues to show his versatility as a performer. Unfortunately, like the recent Being John Malkovich, moviegoers passed up this gem in favor of inferior Hollywood productions. What they missed out on is another breath of fresh air in Tinseltown as Russell's film addresses some serious issues while making us take a hard look at what is truly important in our lives.

The director (who is probably best known for his inventive, 1996 commercial outing Flirting with Disaster) should now be high up on future wish lists thanks to this intelligent, compassionate piece of filmmaking, which is much more than meets the eye. Don't get me wrong, these couple of guys (as you'll quickly find out for yourself) are going for the big score during a vulnerable time, but they discover a lot more about themselves and others during their expedition full of deceit, dangers, and surprises galore. By the end of their journey, we are rewarded with a satisfying and fulfilling voyage of self-discovery.

The setting is post Gulf War (one of the few Hollywood films to touch this subject besides Courage Under Fire) and four US Soldiers: charismatic, and cool-as-ice Major Archie Gates (Clooney), compassionate Sergeant Troy Barlow (Wahlberg), strong-minded Chief Elgin (Cube), and master hick Private Conrad Vig (Malkovich director Spike Jonze) decide to take advantage of wartime policy. They plan on stealing some gold bullion from an Iraqi warehouse during a cease-fire agreement. They not only want to stick it a little more to Saddam Hussein, but they also want to grab a big piece of the good old American pie. It all makes sense to these guys. Archie is about to retire and wants to go out in a blaze of glory, while the rest of the youngsters need to build their future nest eggs. Besides, they're stuck there in Iraq with a chance to get back at one of the most despised men in the world (at least in 1991) who stole from Kuwait.

Our four heroes quickly figure out that although the war may have been boring for many, there is a lot going on behind the scenes as the director does a good job zooming in on the madness of this war. During their covert operation, the boys witness Saddam's troops slaughtering Iraqi rebels (who also want nothing to do with Hussein's ways). This daring group of men may not have necessarily felt or understood the injustices going on before, but they do now and they don't like it one bit. Even with the chance to become immensely rich and get away with it, they choose to become something else: heroes (in a Schindler's List way). Maybe they won't be considered as such in the eyes of their own country, but they will at least to a handful of poor people who are being unjustly persecuted for what they believe in.

This is one action adventure/drama that works. Not only does the camerawork, action sequences, and acting complement each other very nicely, but this is the first picture in quite a long time where all the parties involved (American and foreign entities) are treated with an equal measure of respect and compassion. At least with regards to the unfortunate victims in this unnecessary fiasco, we truly get to experience and feel what they're going through.

Sadly, the film would have probably been seen (initially) by more people if moviegoers were more properly made aware that it was much more than just a so-called war picture, or a film about a couple of greedy guys planning a well-staged robbery. Come to think about it, it was really about neither. It was a story about looking into your heart and doing the right thing. Luckily for us, the soldiers in question decide to do exactly that.

Three Kings is a little film that you think goes only in one direction, but it delves much deeper and opens up a lot of issues to consider. Don't get me wrong. As entertainment vehicles go, it's a highly charged, entertaining piece of work, but Russell's screenplay (based on John Ridley's story) is sharp and intelligent, and makes you ask questions about these kind of wars and our involvement in them. Should we be here? Why? At what cost? The film also takes the time to give us the other side of the story, which helps fuel its impact.

Three Kings has a little of everything and is spearheaded by strong performances across the board and an equally strong story. For those who thought this was just a gold rush/treasure hunt type of picture, think again! You'll realize that there's a lot more going on here. Find out the next time you're at your local video store.

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