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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Three Kings': An Off-the-Wall Depiction of Hijinks and Humanism During the Persian Gulf War

Movie poster for Three Kings (1999)

Three Kings (1999) is a unique and darkly comical depiction of America's intervention in the Persian Gulf circa 1991. The storyline follows Major Archie Gates (George Clooney), Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) as they scour the Iraqi desert for a large cache of gold bullion.

Following the conclusion of armed conflict between Iraqi and United States-led coalition forces, Gates and his personnel locate a map indicating the location of the bullion within one of Saddam Hussein's hidden bunkers. Envisioning lives of prosperity far removed from the drudgery of military service, the trio enlists Private First Class Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze) in their master plan—a madcap affair that ultimately finds them embroiled to the plight of anti-Saddam dissidents desperate to escape the Iraqi Republican Guard.

Co-written and directed by American filmmaker David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook), Three Kings is an adroit spin on the war film formula—dispelling exceptionalism in lieu of a more nuanced depiction of modern conflict. Russell lends his trademark eccentricities to the proceedings, amalgamating action, comedy and drama into a loose mosaic of greed, enrichment, humanitarianism and political exasperation. Uncommon in its delivery, it's a fresh take on U.S. foreign policy in the form of social satire and political critique.


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