Sunday, February 8, 2009

Three Kings (1999)

It is certainly a rare thing to see a seriously themed movie go up on my site, and an even rarer thing to see a politically charged war film. But this one, I'm proud to say, clearly makes the cut. What is it that makes this mongrel movie stand out from so many others? Well, quite a few things actually. I'm a big fan of rawness, especially in the cinematic capacity, and rawness abounds in Three Kings. First of all, there was a literal convoy of controversy surrounding the film, including everything from Ridley the Writer suing for credit to having George Clooney, primarily a television actor at this point in time, doing a song and dance on the doorstep of the director in a last ditch effort to get the job. Not to mention that Russell (the director) was getting into schoolyard scraps with the studio (mostly about the budget, the violence, the political satire, the actors, and the development techniques) and the cast and crew (many reports of anger and assault [ and peppered with punches?]). So here we have a tremendously hectic environment, with less than 3 months to shoot, and everyone getting ansy about having a previously comedic and independent director having control over a $42 million war movie budget and a hodge-podge group of B-list comedians (if you can even call them that: Jamie Kennedy, Spike Jonze, Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg, and Nora Dunn). For more realism, Russell added in a war documentarian, a bitchin' composer (yay for world music!), a series of effects to make the film seem more like wartime than action-time (he even had to throw in a disclosure for all those military and maritime hicks who just thought there was something wrong with their gosh-damned new-fangled DVD machine), and a shit-load of real-life Iraqi refugees, some of whom had been stripped of appendages by none other than Saddam himself (a shout-out to eyepatch dude!). Wahlberg even volunteered to have himself electrocuted to "get in character." Now that's some fucking dedication. And it shows, it really does. Maybe it's because Russell shared a composer with the Coen brothers or just because he stood by Jonze while he was in the midst of directing Being John Malkovich, but there's a seriously dark comedy side to this film, with maps up asses, pumping guns in front of American flags, exploding cows and footballs, and a scintillatingly scandalous look at our troops behind the scenes of the Gulf War. Think Easy Rider meets Fargo and O'Brother. And somehow with Ice Cube in it. But don't diss the players, because the acting is pretty legit. The sets are real. The propoganda is real. The refugees are real (although I was a little startled to see a only partially Iraqi Maeby [of Arrested Development fame] being paraded around in my face as the tear-jerking freckled child). The whole thing just seems real (ok, except for those later-to-be- stolen-by-CSI internal organ shots). But not in that 'I have to go cry' sort of way, thank the lords. And all done with a touch of morality! I guess old uncle Ebert says it best by calling it a, "weird masterpiece, a screw-loose war picture that sends action and humor crashing head-on into each other and spinning off into political anger." Yep, that's about right. And the trailer's a decent enough, albeit sanitized, summary.

Final Judgment: "Dark and demented, delirious and delicate/Riddled with gunshots and grievances/A masterpiece of conflicting opinions/Probably the only war movie (besides Strangelove of course!) you'll ever see up on my site...And it's shot well? What more can you ask for!

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