Three Kings Review

When Three Kings came out in 1999, it was the first Hollywood war movie set in the Gulf War. Come to think of it, it's amazing that we got one that's as good as it is, a film that's eternally amusing as well as relevant. Not long after the latter Iraq War started, Warner Bros released a special edition DVD to capitalize on a renewed interest in the Gulf. Was this Blu-ray release timed to coincide with President Obama's recent declaration that the war in Iraq is over? I can only speculate.

This is another Blu-ray port meant to replace the previous DVD. It has all the same extras, but with the main film presented in high definition. Three Kings is one of the rare films that benefit from the transfer. The film has a truly unique look to it, especially as a war movie. Director David O. Russell and director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel bent over backwards and risked studio ire to shoot the movie in a special, nearly impossible to develop Ektachrome film stock, in order to mimic the oversaturated "Xerox look" of color newspaper photographs. The halo-ed grain and strange orange pop of the desert look even more stated in HD.

This is evident even in the film's terrific opening—arguably the best scene in the movie. The war has just ended. We see a slab of shiny blue sky cutting across the orange sand. A silhouette of a guy is standing in the distance. Mark Wahlberg's head creeps into the frame, a bright yellow button sticks out like a sore thumb on the back of his camo helmet. "Are we shooting?" He yells over his shoulder. For a second, it almost looks like he's asking the director if the movie's started yet. Then he clarifies, "Are we shooting people? I don't know the answer." Unsure, he shoots the silhouette anyway, which turns out to be a surrendering Iraqi.

It's an off-kilter opening for an off-kilter movie. Hear tell that John Ridley's original script is an action-comedy nod to Kelly's Heroes that shows a group of rascally US soldiers hunting for stolen gold in wartorn Iraq. Under Russell's pen and direction, however, it evolved into something more playful. The throughline remains the same. Wahlberg, Ice Cube and George Clooney, with the additional help of Spike Jonze, set out to find stolen gold bullion after finding a treasure map in an Iraqi's anus. This crude scenario somehow leads to a series of tongue-in-cheek political satire about media politics and consumerism, with bizarre scenes like discussing American hypocrisy through Michael Jackson during torture.

It's hard to make a war movie that doesn't end up glorifying the violence—either you indulge in it or you sanitize it, neither of which are ideal options—and while Three Kings isn't exactly exploit-free, it does however try to make wartime violence as unglamorous as possible. Starting with the description of what happens to a body and its organs when a bullet punctures it, which is shown in gross detail, far from the "cool" depiction of people getting shot in war movies. Furthermore, Russell keeps shooting action scenes in unconventional ways, focusing on disorientation rather than excitement. The best thing about the film is how it balances puerile humor with real horrors, effectively and rightfully making light of an absurd war while at the same time never ignoring the devastating effects.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The good news is that this Blu-ray disc is packed with terrific extras; the bad news is that they're the same ones from the original DVD release ten years ago. They're good ones, though, having two commentary tracks (one with Russell and another with the producers), additional scenes, a featurette, a video journal, and a jokey interview with Ice Cube about the acting process.

The best extras are the two technical interviews, one with production designer Catherine Hardwicke introducing the set and another with DP Sigel giving the full process of achieving the film's unique look. The latter is a great item for photography enthusiasts, but it's a bit ironic that all the extras are in blurry standard definition, so in this one, the shots Sigel's talking about look about 1/20 as good as they are in the HD main feature.

"Three Kings" is on sale October 12, 2010 and is rated R. Comedy, War. Directed by David O Russell. Written by David O. Russell (screenplay), John Ridley (story). Starring Cliff Curtis, George Clooney, Ice Cube, Jamie Kennedy, Mark Wahlberg, Said Taghmaoui, Spike Jonze, Nora Dunn.

Oct
20
2010
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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