Monday, February 25, 2008

3 Kings

(1999) Directed and Screenplay by David O. Russell Story by John Riddley Starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonez, Nora Dunn IMDB Entry

I was recently reading an article on a British poll of the top ten films to miss out on Oscars. The list is pretty distinguished, including The Shawshank Redemption, The Sixth Sense, Blade Runner, It's a Wonderful Life, Taxi Driver, Psycho, Singin' in the Rain and Dr Strangelove. But, of course the film that came to my mind wasn't even mentioned. And while some of these films may not have won best picture Oscars, they did get nominations.

Three Kings, on the other hand, got nothing. Not a win -- which might have been unlikely due to its political theme -- but not a single nomination. This for one of the best war comedies ever made, a weird little comedy-drama that captures the weirdness of combat unlike any other film.

War movies are a big genre, of course, and it's hard to call any war picture the ultimate movie made about a particular war (though M*A*S*H comes close for Korea/Vietnam). Except for Three Kings, which is clearly the ultimate Gulf War film.

The movie is set as the war officially ends, in the time when chaos is king. Three soldiers discover a map that may or may not lead to Saddam Heussein's gold bullion, and led by Major Archie Gates (George Clooney), go off in on a chase through Iraq in search of it. It's a movie of random weirdness and events that show how connected the world really is. One of my favorite moments was when one of the soldiers is captured and thrown into a cell. On the floor are thousands of old cell phones. He picks them up and keeps dialing until he gets his wife at home in the US, telling her to send help.

The movie keeps you guessing, and makes some good points about war itself. Needless to say, Clooney is just perfect in a typical George Clooney "charm and wisecrack" role, and there's special credit for Spike Jonez, as the cracker soldier Conrad Vig. Jonez is better known as a director (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), but is fun to watch as the halfwitted Vig.

The movie did tolerable business and got good reviews, but may have been hurt by a relatively early (October) release. Or maybe the fact that people thought we were done in Iraq and it wouldn't be news again . . .

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