February 28th, 2012: Three Kings (1999)

Cast and Crew:  David O. Russell (Director, Screenwriter); John Ridley (Story); Carter Burwell (Music); George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Cliff Curtis, Nora Dunn, Jamie Kennedy

What It’s About: At the end of the first Gulf War, soldiers deal with the uncertainties of a country in shambles while searching for treasure.

Why Watch it Today?: The Gulf War cease-fire took place on this date in 1991.

Where to Get It: Amazon Instant Video or iTunes, Netflix (Rental Only) or your local library.

6 comments on “February 28th, 2012: Three Kings (1999)

  1. theelderj says:

    An underrated movie, as I remember it. Were there any decent Gulf War I movies?

    • professormortis says:

      What I saw of Jarhead was really good, but I never got to finish it. I should revisit-it stands the best chance of unseating this as “Best choice to mark Gulf War I”. In a weird way The Big Lebowski is a great, if sort of tangential, critique of the whole era.

      I found this one problematic, myself. I liked that they tried to show what happened to the Shiites and other dissident groups and oppressed minorities that we provided hope for, only to abandon them to “No Fly Zones” and Saddam’s wrath, and I liked the characters and the other moments of commentary, but I felt that the last 1/3 of the film abandoned everything that was making it good and unique for a very silly action movie with invulnerable heroes who accomplish all of their goals. Then again, I haven’t seen this since I was 22 and as cranky a critic as I’d ever be; I’m betting if I watched it now I would be more forgiving…though considering what’s happened in Iraq since this movie was made it should make for some VERY interesting viewing. Still, even with the last 1/3 disappointing me, this is a unique film, and worth a watch.

  2. There are *very* few good war movies, and probably none that I’d recommend without reservation. I think it’s just one of those ridiculously big topics that you can’t say a lot about in two hours. I mean, I’m totally fine with action movies, but if you’re trying to say something about the human condition as it relates to war in this medium, you’ve got an uphill battle.

    When you take a war that is either ongoing or very recent, you only complicate things further, politically. (See also, art about 9/11).

    That said, I remember really liking this movie. It’s about our obligations in wars of choice, but told through the prism of what these dudes are doing, in a way that I found really satisfying. This was a few years ago, and I’m curious if that reaction holds up. I’m not entirely sure how it escapes my criticism, but I think I found it just subtle enough, while still having something to say that I appreciated it. Or maybe I was just charmed by George Clooney & co.

    As for Jarhead: I didn’t like it as much. It was more realistic, so it definitely escapes your criticism of this film’s last third, but I couldn’t help but feel like it didn’t have much to say about war at all. Maybe that war is strangely boring? That said, some of the visuals of that movie — like the oil fields on fire — definitely stuck with me…

    • professormortis says:

      I’m not sure I agree that there are few good war movies, but I think it depends on what you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to go along with the ones that aren’t questioning the institution much. Taking out action movies, I’d feel fine saying that the 1930s All Quiet on the Western Front, Paths of Glory, Castle Keep, Pork Chop Hill, Army of Shadows, Seven Beauties, From Here to Eternity, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Big Parade, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Apocalypse Now, King Rat, Mother Night, The Battle of Algiers, Grave of the Fireflies, Letters from Iwo Jima were all good war movies that are not 100% “Go Team” kind of affairs. If we allow for “Go Team” or Epics, I’d throw Lawrence of Arabia, The Great Escape, Zulu, The Battle of Britain…obviously you may disagree, but I don’t think it’s that hard to make a decent war movie, but maybe my standards for saying something about the human condition are much, much lower.

      I agree that recent makes it harder, it is generally easier to do these sort of things about fictional wars or past wars.

      I definitely agree it’s an enjoyable movie, I just felt like it abandoned what was interesting about it to make it fit into a more typical action/war movie kind of ending-but it’s been 13 years, so my opinion might change if I watch it again. As far as Jarhead goes, I wouldn’t be surprised-I liked what I saw but had to leave before I was more than halfway through.

      • Anonymous says:

        First, I am not sure why I did back there. I must have been thinking about only movies that came out in the last twenty or so years. If course, there are tons of great and classic movies about war, and of course even movies like Lawrence of Arabia have something to say… But it does seem strange that sometime around Vietnam, things start dropping off….

      • professormortis says:

        I went a bit overboard in listing every damn war related movie I’ve ever liked, so I’m not sure what I was thinking, either. I think the thing with Vietnam is, it was such a divisive war (and one we lost) that it’s even harder to handle than most wars are. I’m actually a fan of Apocalypse Now, and I appreciate, but do not love all of, Full Metal Jacket. Certainly a lot of other movies about that war were made, some interesting (The Beast is an interesting “Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan as stand-ins for Americans in Vietnam” film), some not (Rambo II and any number of other right wing fantasies about going back to ‘Nam and winning), but I feel like post-Korea, actually, Hollywood began to turn away from making movies about recent wars. I mean, if it’s hard finding great films about Vietnam, Korea is even harder (though Pork Chop Hill is pretty solid, and some of Samuel Fuller’s stuff is interesting if uneven). What this really makes me wonder about is World War One….pretty much everyone seemed to agree, it was terrible, and so most of the war films about it (outside of propaganda made during the war and some of the films about fighter pilots) were solidly anti-war. Was that war just so terrible that no one could get behind it fully politically and artistically? Or did something happen with politics since the turmoil of the 1960s that has lead to deep politicization that doesn’t allow that kind of consensus. I feel like several books could, and probably have been written on this, or at least long journal articles!

        Actually, scratch that-the “Great” War is pretty damned indefensible on any level, which is probably why almost all movies about it that are at all rooted in reality are major anti-war films.

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