Gold in the desert
Three Kings
Review by Ross Anthony

Three kings and a joker (all US military) stumble across an "ass map" during a cease-fire during the Gulf War. The map (which was found in an Iraqi buttocks) could very well reveal the location of a great deal of gold. In an attempt to return home rich, the four find themselves having to choose between material or humanitarian wealth. It's a tough choice, so with death on their heels they go for both.

Strangely resembling a journalistic version of "Saving Private Ryan," "Three Kings" is really more like Tarantino in the Middle East. The grainy overexposed footage goes a long way toward making you feel that this is really happening. And the gruff point-blank bullets to the flesh make blaring contrast to deadpan, stumbling humor. Oddly, it's not the humor that takes you out of this "reality" the director carefully creates -- it's the hyper-stylized cinematography especially present during an exchange of gunfire. The camera stabs like a bayonet from the shooter to the target as if to follow the bullet. A brave directorial option.

Thrown into the mix (none too subtlety) are sharp messages of politics and humanitarianism. In one scene an American soldier who really believes he's there to liberate Kuwait has oil forced down his throat in an attempt to illustrate the truly "crude" reasons for his (the American) presence.

Though altruism prevails, the film is still a war comedy. And laughing at such tragedy may be too much for some people to take (especially those who have experienced combat first hand or their surviving loved ones).

Nonetheless, it's a strong, bold film with an incredible pace (which levels off midway), outstandingly creative direction, rock solid acting (Wahlberg is great), an aggressive (only slightly imperfect) script, and a fiercely subtle sense of dark humor.

Three Kings. Copyright © 1999. Rated R.
Starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze and Nora Dunn, Cliff Curtis.
Screenwriter/Director David O. Russell.
Produced by Charles Roben and Paul Junger Witt and Edward L. McDonnell at Warner Brothers.


Copyright © 1999 Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 07:51:49 PDT