Classic Intel: Three Kings - DVD Review

'Three Kings addresses its politically inclined message not through stodgy diatribe but with a decent helping of fun. Russell even uses slow motion occasionally.'

David O. Russell's 1999 film about a group of soldiers searching for lost gold in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, Three Kings presents itself broadly as an action thriller but on careful examination has more than a few passing similarities with the political-comedy trappings of last year's Four Lions.

Like that film, Russell disguises his comedy with everyday idiocy and joyful ridiculousness. The films MacGuffin, a map purporting to lead to gold bullion Iraq stole from Kuwait, is found protruding from a captured soldier's anus, an inauspicious and deceptively bawdy start to the intelligence the film reveals later.

As the plot moves nimbly into gear with Mark Wahlberg, George Clooney and Ice Cube joined by fourth 'King' Spike Jonze, Russell, who also wrote the script, quickly sets about layering the narrative with metaphor. There's irony in the fact that, as our soldiers drive along, they use American Footballs as target practice - like clay-pigeons but with assault rifles rather than shotguns. That a symbol of American pride and individualism is targeted and destroyed by its own soldiers should not pass without notice although Russell does redress the balance later on when the footballs are strapped with explosives and used as makeshift grenades.

The most impressive scene in the film, where Troy (Wahlberg) is tortured by Said (Saïd Taghmaoui), is further layered with Russell's critique and political knowledge. Surrounded by consumerist goods, the layers between the characters are stripped back as Troy slowly comes to realise that he is not in control of the situation and that the power roles in the US vs Iraq conflict are, in this room, reversed. Going further than that, Russell has Said force-feeding Troy oil, using a CD to jam his mouth open. At this point, Troy has ceased to become a solider - he's just a regular American civilian talking about his family - and the imagery involved, coupled with the film's occasionally stinging critique of the media, appears to be a direct comment by Russell on the presentation by both journalists and politicians of the first Gulf War.

Again like Four Lions, Three Kings addresses its politically inclined message not through stodgy diatribe but with a decent helping of fun. Russell even uses slow motion occasionally. The action scenes are well directed, the characters are fleshed out to an appropriate degree and the acting rarely falters. Indeed, Ice Cube is close to a revelation whilst Spinke Jonze's character proves to be the source of most annoyance.

The end might dabble in triumphalism and attempt to present America as the nation saving entity it most wants to be remembered as but there's no denying that it's satisfactory, justifiable and uplifting, much like the rest of the film, which is an under-appreciated modern classic.

Look further...

'Everything a war movie isn’t, and that’s exactly why it works' - Cut The Crap Movie Reviews, 8/10


  1. Oh my you naughty boy, you have scared me silly as I cannot believe it was 1999 that I went and saw this at the flicks! I'm glad you mentioned Four Lion. I haven't seen any reviews on it in blogosphere. Like King's it was a cracker of a film with a quietly told message. I liked them both.

  2. It was one of the first DVD's I ever bought. Remember when they came in cardboard packages? Not cardboard sleeves over a plastic case: the entire case is cardboard! I love anything that takes a serious message and addresses it in a really clever way. Both this and FOUR LIONS fit that bill for me.

  3. God you are dragging out the memories aren't you!! i had quite forgotten thet were once sold like that!!
    I'm in the same league as I like films with a serious mesage as well. But I do like from time to time mindless rubbish. Problem being is most movies are mindles rubbish.