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Three Kings (1999)

This might be the best movie made about the War in Iraq, and it was made 4 years before that war even started.  It’s actually set during Operation Desert Storm, in 1991. But everything translates surprisingly well — most importantly, the notion of our boys shouting “Mission Accomplished!” while the Iraqis feel like the fighting has only just begun.

George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube play a trio of soldiers who discover a map leading to some stolen Kuwaiti gold in Iraq. They use their authority as American soldiers, brandishing a letter from President Bush, to “confiscate” the gold, though they have no intention of returning it to the Kuwaitis. But along the way, they get embroiled in a dispute between Sadaam’s army and some Iraqi rebels, and end up doing the right thing in spite of their original intentions.

David O. Russell messes with the color palette so the whole thing looks like it’s taking place on another planet.  It’s the only movie where we’re told upfront that this happens, in a disclaimer before the movie rolls.  (I don’t know why they felt they had to do that.)  The effect is disorienting, and of course that’s the point: our heroes are so far away from home, so out of their element, that they have a hard time making simple judgment calls.  And most of the judgment calls they have to make aren’t simple.

I’m intrigued by the version of American soldiers (and America, by proxy) that “Three Kings” puts forward.   At the beginning, the soldiers seem like empty-headed, testosterone-drunk dumbasses.  Then they come across as well-intentioned but naive, and restricted from doing any real good by an inefficient bureaucracy.  But then they become men who can’t ignore their consciences, and sacrifice whatever it takes to do the right thing.  All three are Yankee stereotypes, but put them all together, and you get a pretty clear picture of your typical American.  He’s a naive, testosterone drunk dumbass who will put his life on the line to clear his conscience.   Make of that what you will.


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