Three Kings

Three Kings ★★★★★

My Golden Age of Cinema will forever be the 1990s. Being between the ages of 11 and 20, it was the period when I formed, solidified and studied my love of film. It was also pretty much Internet free, so I hadn’t had the whole thing ruined by that. Of the period, 1995-1999 spawned some of my favorite films to this day and Three Kings is high up that list.

Beginning as a Kelly's Heroes in Iraq, it’s not long before the jovial antics and satire give way to fairly hefty critique of the US War for Oil, and the way in which those that were cajoled into rebelling against Iraqi forces were abandoned by the West to slaughter and torture at the hands of Sadam.

Thankfully O. Russell isn’t as bullish with his politicking as say, Oliver Stone, and he keeps a healthy vein of humor running through to the end that elevates the overall tone without sacrificing any of the real and important issues he's tackling. He also never looses sight of the fact that painting any participants in War as either emphatically heroic or resolutely evil can be misguided.

As we watch our Kings (Clooney, Wahlberg, Cube & Jonze) lie, cheat and steal their way to a develope a conscience, there’s a second act involving Wahlberg’s capture and torture that gets under the skin of the Iraqi’s view on the war, or at least America's involvement in it. O. Russell is trying for an even hand and he achieves it without overplaying it. In fact, it’s one of the strongest scenes in the film. Wahlberg works well with O. Russell (here in the first of 3 films together) but it’s Said Taghmaoui who sells the trickier role. Both are great.

You could perhaps stick a pin in this as the film that transitioned George Clooney from TV-Actor-Turned-Movie-Star to soon-to-be Oscar Winner. From Dusk Till Dawn & Out Of Sight both proved he was a star, but this established him as an Actor. He stopped relying on the facial ticks that he’d cultivated and relied on during his time on ER and gave us the first of the authoritative Leading Man roles he was to transition into.

For his part, Ice Cube doesn’t rely on “Muthafuckas”, is less shouty than he tends to be and provides a fine foil to Spike Jonze’s gleefully dimwitted redneck performance - they make an extremely likeable pairing. I could watch a whole movie following those two alone.

Top honours have to go to David O. Russell though. Making a Comedy out of inflammatory subject matter can often be misinterpreted as making light of it, but done right it works two-fold.

Firstly, humor cuts through the misery; something that can switch a viewer off if there’s no reprieve. I like depressing films, I love a good wallow, (I’ll probably do one of these about Lilya Forever at some stage), but when a filmmaker is trying to TELL ME SOMETHING IMPORTANT it helps if they don’t sacrifice all semblance of entertainment in the process. It’s why I responded more to Django Unchained than I did 12 Years A Slave. Tarantino made me engage with his story, and so it affected me more. McQueen just made me wish it was over. A spoonful of sugar, and all that… (though I’ll concede my lack of a relationship to slavery makes that a problematic thing to say).

Secondly, humor as juxtaposition can be an effective tool. If one minute you’re laughing and in the same scene you’re being punched in the gut the emotional whiplash provides emphasis.

For all his stylistic tricks at play (it’s a film full of heavy grain, de-saturation, over saturation, bleach bypass, cross process, slo-mo, zoom, whip-pans, frame cranking, it’s got it all) perhaps O. Russell’s neatest touch comes in that interrogation scene. As Taghmaoui’s Captain Said tells of how he lost his child to US air strikes, there’s a cutaway to the incident played in silence. When he then asks Troy (Wahlberg) to imagine it happening to his child we see a “hypothetical” cutaway to him visualising his daughter's death, again distressingly mute. When deprived of one of your senses it gives you no where to hide, it forces you to look and digest what you’re seeing. It’s illustrative of how, in both screenplay and direction, O. Russell manages to find all the right moments to hold back or crank it up.

All this aside, the highest praise I can level at this (or any) film is that it ends with a U2 song and I still love it.

That’s really saying something.

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