We are subjected to graphic brutality, forced to watch humans tortured and a cow blown into shreds that splatter everyone within reach.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Three Kings unfolds against the bleached landscape that served as the battleground for the Persian Gulf War. After peace is announced, the Americans, many of whom saw no action in this odd war, want to go home. The Iraqi soldiers are protecting the riches they stole from Kuwait, and the Iraqi dissidents, encouraged by the U.S. to rise up against Saddam Hussein, are terrified of retribution.

Independent filmmaker David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey) uses this moment as the backdrop for his first big-budget film-a strange movie delivered in frantic, fractured bursts of violence. We are subjected to graphic brutality, forced to watch humans tortured and a cow blown into shreds that splatter everyone within reach.

Sergeant Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) have discovered a map of Saddam's underground bunkers. As they puzzle over its meaning, Special Forces Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) arrives with a plan. The bunkers hold stolen gold. They will steal the gold and return to the U.S. to live lives of everlasting self-indulgence. An image popped to mind of Archie Gates walking into Citibank with a bag of Kuwaiti gold expecting the exchange to be as easy as trading rolls of pennies for dollars.

As our entrepreneurial heroes roar through bunkers filled with contraband watches, jewelry, luxury cars, and gold bars, we are treated to an intriguing, often comic look at the new ways of wartime black markets. But the humor, sandwiched between grisly tortures, is hollow.

Director Russell trumpets his agenda with shouted accusations at President George Bush for encouraging the dissidents to overthrow Saddam Hussein and then abandoning them. The movie that began as a caper turns into a morality play. The director turns the thieves into idealists. The problem is that the caper is too lighthearted, the idealism too heavy-handed to coexist successfully within the same movie.

If Mr. Russell's concept is faulty, the movie works better than it might because of its cast. Mark Wahlberg is asked to project a wide range of emotion, and he delivers. Ice Cube is believable as the wise, devout sergeant. Cliff Curtis is terrific as the Iraqi, Amir, and George Clooney is exactly right as Major Archie Gates.

When the movie shifts gears too suddenly, it is Mr. Clooney who makes the sudden turn seem almost plausible. It's not hard to believe that his wisecracking, shrewd character can also have courage and decency when life demands it.

Mr. Russell uses innovative camera work, especially freeze frames that capture, for just a second, the emotion on the faces of men under siege. But when he uses camera technique to dwell on the details of torture, he goes too far. He had conveyed the plight of the refugees and a captured prisoner well enough without falling into the current trap of graphic excess. It is such an assault on the audience that the humanity of his movie is lost.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Warner Bros.
Rating : R
Running time : 1h45m

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