Three Kings (1999)
Main cast: George Clooney (Major Archie Gates), Mark Wahlberg (Sgt Troy Barlow), Ice Cube (Chief), Spike Jonze (Conrad Vig), and Nora Dunn (Adriana Cruz)
Director: David O Russell

Wow. This movie is a fantastic hybrid of irony, comedy, and war drama that at the surface doesn't seem to have any direction. But upon a closer look, it is an amazingly well-done, complex tale that explore how darned difficult it can be sometimes to be ignoble. How much can your conscience let you get away with things you know shouldn't do? Put this theme in a backdrop that is the uneasy Allies-Iraqi Gulf War, a time after the peace treaty is signed, and I get an absolutely refreshing and thought-provoking movie. The cast is also excellent, although I still think George Clooney looks like a troll.

Our heroes (if you can call them that) are bored. Stuck in their military encampment with nothing to do but to indulge in silly partying, Archie, Troy, Conrad, and Chief are just waiting to go home now that the Gulf War is over. They have never been to battle as the Gulf War had been more of a chemical and political warfare that didn't require their services... much. One day, they finds a map leading to a stach of gold bullion in one of the Iraqi bunkers in (of all places) up where the sun never shines in an Iraqi prisoner. Well, with money sign glittering in their eyes, our intrepid rogue soldiers are all set to go rob a few gold bars, quit the army, and enjoy life. What can go wrong, right?

Plenty. Soon they are tangled up in the rebel Kurd-Iraqi feud, causing them to violate the peace treaty their President signed with Saddam Hussein. And their conscience kicks in bad. Things get really downhill for them when they end up helping Kurdish refugees to safety.

I simply adore the whole movie. Irony abounds in most delightful ways, from an Iraqi soldier declaring that America is evil because the White people forced Michael Jackson to undergo plastic surgery and bleac himself white (I'm not joking!) to using Rolls Royce for a rescue mission. The American soldiers are laughably inane in their condescension of the people they're supposed to protect, when they end up having to beg these people they treat like small children for help. There's a really absurd scene involving the explosion of a steer, and a prisoner is locked in a room full of functional cell phones.

The characters are a delight too. Archie is a jaded womanizing soldier who eventually finds out the hard way that he still have some humanity in him. Troy is the most well-done as a family man and new father who finds it increasingly difficult to leave the Kurd rebels and their children behind to be massacred by the Iraqi soldiers. Conrad is an ignorant, babbling rascist who when paired with god-fearing Black soldier Chief result in reluctant reformation.

It is one thing to say Three Kings a brilliant display of wit and irony. This movie also somehow manages to find room for character-driven scenes that stay in my mind long after the movie ended. There's a scene where Troy, imprisoned, finds a cell phone and calls home to say goodbye to his wife and baby. It's moving, especially effective in its underplayed poignancy. Likewise, a scene where Conrad asks Chief for a new start in their friendship is wonderfully carried out. And the grand finale, which rightly refuses to degenerate into melodrama that plagued Saving Private Ryan, is simply heartwarming. I feel like applauding even as tears roll down my eyes.

So yes, this movie is simply marvelous.

Rating: 95

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