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Digging for gold

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 8, 1999

This is not your father's war movie.

It is not about World War II or Vietnam. Instead, it concerns itself with the Gulf War, a war which occurred in our time, a time of MTV, 24-hour news channels and all that postmodern disillusionment your professor talks about ad nauseum.

"Three Kings" focuses on society's lack of true causes, how the Gulf War lacked the noble moral cause of World War II. Back then, it was fight Hitler and tyranny and gain freedom for the entire world. Now, it has become fight Sadaam and gain fair oil prices for middle-class Americans.

The soldiers of "Three Kings" feel the void of this moral imperative and thus, formulate a plan, using a map found in an enemy soldier's derriÉre, to steal millions of dollars worth of Kuwaiti gold bullion seized by Sadaam. They reason that since the war is about money, they should get some of it.

Archie Gates (George Clooney, becoming less and less a TV star, and more and more a leading man), is weeks away from retirement and looking for a little nest egg as thanks for his devoted service. Joining him is Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), who has a wife and daughter back in the states to take care of, Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), who doesn't want to go back to his airport luggage attendant job, and Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze), who is a high school dropout that didn't do much of anything before he joined the army.

Like "Saving Private Ryan," these four go on a journey. Only this time, the mission is not a man, but money. Instead of encountering devastated towns and pissed-off Germans, these men cross the Iraqi desert throwing footballs armed with explosives, become covered in cow guts (a truly unique moment that must be seen) and are largely ignored by Iraqi soldiers that fear Sadaam more than these gold-seeking Americans. The audience watches dumbfounded and asks, "This is a war?"

Yet that was director-screenwriter David O. Russell's intention: to represent the singular nature of a war that existed for Americans only on television. Russell even throws in a television reporter (Nora Dunn), who at one point upon seeing oil-coated birds suffocating and dying exclaims, "I've already done this story." It was all about what's the story, where's the drama, and never about human suffering.

The Gulf War was entertainment, something one watched when "Roseanne" was in reruns. The human element of it was forgotten. The four soldiers begin the film with this mindset, thinking only about the gold, and then gradually they begin to discover the human side to the tragedy.

The film has the feel of quick-paced MTV programming, utilizing slow motion and jittery handheld camera work that borders on "Blair Witch" intensity, mimicking the way that American viewers saw the war. As entertainment, it is presented as such, with wonderfully stylized sequences including one where Russell shows the path of a bullet after it has entered the body, ripping through organs and tissue.

"Three Kings" looks different than any other war movie. Emblems of American culture, from jeans to cuisinarts, are in every location. Even an attack on a bunker is done with Rolls Royces and BMWs. The audience is constantly reminded that money is the driving force behind the war.

"Three Kings" does not pretend to accurately portray the events of the Gulf War, but it does put on one hell of a show.

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