Three Kings (15)
THINK back 30 years to a heist movie set in World War II and starring Clint
Eastwood, Donald Sutherland and Telly Savalas.
That was called Kelly’s Heroes and featured Clint and Co stealing behind
enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France to rip off a cache of gold bullion in a
heavily guarded bank. Packed to the gills with action and comedy, it proved
to be one of the smash hits of 1971.
Now, in 2000, we have George Clooney, Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg and Spike
Jonze disappearing off into the Iraqi wastes after the end of the
Gulf War to rip off a cache of gold bullion from under the noses of the
But while Three Kings is an obvious carbon copy of at least one element of
Kelly’s Heroes, it possesses a much harder edge while the comic elements
are diminished in favour of a political subtext which considers the
after-effects of the Gulf War for perhaps the first time on film.
Clooney plays Major Archie Gates, a Special Forces veteran who comes into
possession of a map seemingly pinpointing gold stolen from Kuwait by the
invading Iraqi forces.
With three pals in tow he appropriates an armoured car and disappears off
into the desert, a la Clint Eastwood in Kelly’s Heroes, to find it.
And that’s where Three Kings suddenly becomes a great deal more serious
than Kelly’s Heroes ever was. Eschewing laughs for gritty drama,
director/writer David Russell instead opts for an insightful glimpse into
what happened when the United States abandoned the Shi’ite freedom fighters
of Iraq to torture and wholesale murder at the hands of power-mad
In an overtly political arena the Iraqis are depicted as disorganised,
ignorant, murderous peasants and terrorists who are petrified at the mere
mention of Saddam Hussein’s name.
In one telling sequence, soldiers flee an isolated desert fort falsely
believing Saddam to be en-route to personally recover a hoard of looted
watches and electrical equipment.
Given the portrait already painted of Saddam by the world’s media as a
power-crazy despot who gleefully executes those who fail him, the scenes
are powerfully persuasive.
Yet Three Kings has more to say about the Allies’ abandonment of the Iraqi
people than it has to say about Saddam. The scenes of anarchy, opportunism
and profiteering form the thrust of the film, with Clooney and his team
meandering through as witnesses.
Battle sequences, a blackly comic moment in a minefield and the various
brief but intense skirmish scenes are extremely authentic, as are the
various stand-offs with Iraqi troops who are depicted as either fanatical
Three Kings is not a traditional war film, nor is it a standard heist
movie. Nevertheless, it is packed to the gills with hard action, great
stunts, thrills and fine performances from Clooney, Cube, Wahlberg and
Jonze. Just like Kelly’s Heroes.