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Three Kings

Director/Writer:David O. Russell
Warner Bros.; 105 minutes; R
Cast:George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Saïd Taghmaoui, Nora Dunn

Three Kings is a unique hybrid between Apocalypse Now and Shindler's List. A group of U.S. soldiers liberate a map from an Iraqi soldier's butt that leads to $23 million in gold bullion that Saddam Hussein stole from Kuwait. A day after armistice a motley crew of treasure-hunters venture forth, under the covert command of Sgt. Maj. Archie Gates (Clooney), who's ditched the story-hungry television reporter (Dunn) he's supposed to escort. Problem is, when the Americans arrive in a rural village, the Iraqis—who had been told by President Bush to rise up against Saddam—are inspired and do just that, only to get beaten down by Saddam's forces, with no help from the U.S. to be had. Gold in hand, the Americans' consciences set in, but everything blows up in their face—literally and metaphorically.

Filmed in supersaturated stock with surreal desert pastels, Three Kings is a pleasure to watch. It flaunts stylized, stomach-churning violence that's horribly beautiful in its rendering. Sly black humor and politics edge on many scenes. Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze shine as work-a-day reserve boys who just wanted some extra bucks. Three Kings boldly attacks Arab stereotypes, and Saïd Taghmaoui does wonders with his role as a rebel leader/business-school grad driven to violence after American bombs ravage his chain of cafes.

Three Kings is one of the best war movies of the 1990s, for its frank, funny look at American interests, racism, and the role of the media, as well as its cool visual flair.

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