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David O. Russell
George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube
Writing Credits:
David O. Russell

Three Kings (1999) In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, four soldiers set out to steal gold that was stolen from Kuwait, but they discover people who desperately need their help.

Box Office:
$75 million.
Opening Weekend
$15,847,636 on 2942 screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1/16X9
English Dolby 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $14.97
Release Date: 4/11/2000

• Audio Commentary with Director David O. Russell
• Audio Commentary with Producers Charles Roven and Edward L. McDonnell
• “Under the Bunker” Featurette
• “On the Set” Featurette
• “The Cinematography of Three Kings” Featurette
• “Video Journal” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• “An Intimate Look Inside the Acting Process” Featurette
• Production Notes
• Photo Gallery
• Cast & Crew
• Trailer


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Three Kings (1999)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 13, 2022)

Based on its trailer, 1999’s Three Kings looked to be a complete stinker. The preview made the film largely resemble some sort of Tarantino-esque heist movie.

In addition, a terrible hip-hop version of Buffalo Springfield's Sixties protest song "For What It's Worth" added a component that I guess intended to make us realize our protagonists would take up a cause. If ads predicted anything, then Kings had to be a dog.

To my surprise, the film came out and garnered positive reviews. I can't say that I think it completely lives up to all of its hype, but it definitely makes for an interesting and compelling experience.

Set in 1991 immediately after the first Gulf War, some US soldiers discover a map that leads to a secret Iraqi location. In this spot resides a cache of valuables the Iraq forces stole from Kuwaitis.

Led by Major Archie Gates (George Clooney), this crew smells their lucky day and they attempt to “liberate” the wealth for their own use. However, they encounter needy locals and must choose between their selfish desires and the greater good.

Director David O. Russell pours on all sorts of visual gimmicks. At times it felt like I watched a Gulf War version of The Matrix.

We see various uses of slow motion, special effects and the like that occasionally detract from the experience - it can all be a little clever-clever - but usually feel pretty useful. For example, in one scene, Russell slows down gunfire so that we experience each and every impact, something that would be lost at real speed.

The plot itself offers nothing special. Essentially we have some semi-amoral guys who embark on a selfish plan but ultimately get caught up in a bigger cause.

They learn, they grow, blah blah blah. Ordinary as the storyline may be, Russell spikes it with some surprises and makes it quite provocative for the most part.

One surprise for me is that Kings provides more of an action film than I expected. Most war movies fit into that genre as well, but this one seems different, as it more firmly embraces the “thrills” than anticipated.

Kings definitely offers a compelling movie, but not one that has inspires a lot of thought or retrospection on my part. This doesn’t occur because it seems brainless.

Instead, it comes more from the fact that the heroes and villains generally seem so clear. Granted, our protagonists appear more flawed than most, but we still strongly empathize with them and we know they'll do the right thing.

On the bad-guy side we have the second half of the 20th century's Hitler, Saddam Hussein. Saddam never actually appears in the movie, but we feel his spirit through the actions of his minions.

One of these characters gets more personality than usual, but although we grow to understand him, we never deviate from our disdain of his comrades, and we will eventually cheer on our heroes.

One part of Kings that bothers me came from the usual grossly stereotypical depiction of Southern characters. We see two redneck types - each played by the distinctly non-Southern Spike Jonze and Jamie Kennedy - who are stupid and/or racist.

One character of this sort would have been bad enough but two seems like overkill. Perhaps someday someone will explain to me why it's okay to make fun of "rednecks" but similar portrayals of most other sub-groups of people are degrading and insulting. It's one of the few significant misfires in Kings.

Whatever else I can say for it, Three Kings makes for an interesting experience. It's an anti-war movie that guiltily revels in its action scenes but also manifests some self-consciously artsy tones.

It's not a perfect movie, or even a great one, but it's compelling and its broad range should make it interesting to a wide variety of audiences.

The Disc Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

Three Kings appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the disc has been enhanced for 16X9 monitors. A release from DVD’s fairly early years, Kings showed its age.

At the start of the DVD, a disclaimer reads: "The makers of Three Kings used visual distortion and unusual colors in some scenes of this film. They intentionally used these unconventional techniques to enhanced the emotional intensity of the story line."

Take those words to heart, for while Kings may not look as bizarre as the statement leads one to believe, it indeed offers a highly stylized visual experience.

Sharpness seemed bland. Close-ups managed reasonable delineation, but everything else came across on the mushy and soft side.

Minor jagged edges and moiré effects appeared, and I saw mild edge haloes as well. A few small specks appeared, and in addition to the film’s copious grain, I noticed a fair amount of digital artifacts.

Colors tended to be desaturated due to the washed-out appearance given to the film. Even within that framework, the hues looked too flat and lifeless.

Black levels appeared passable, and shadows were adequate. Brightness tended to go a little crazy, as even with the movie’s photographic choices, the image looked too jacked up. Given its age and format, I thought this was a “C-“ but that’s about the best I could give it, and a “D+” wouldn’t be off-base.

The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack provided less equivocal pleasures. The soundfield seemed wide and deep as well; the front speakers often spread audio across their range, and the rear channels added a lot of spatiality to the image.

The surrounds weren't universally active, but they did contribute a good amount of kick to the mix. This wasn’t an action spectacular, so the track didn’t get tons of opportunities to shine. Nonetheless, it came with plenty of battle moments that opened up the soundscape, and it displayed those well.

Quality seemed excellent throughout the movie. Dialogue was always clear and crisp with no intelligibility problem.

Music sounded warm, rich and effectively smooth, while effects were deep and realistic, with no signs of distortion. All in all, it's a very fine soundtrack.

When we head to extras, we find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director/screenwriter David O. Russell, as he offers a running, screen-specific piece that looks at what attracted him to the project, script and story, cast, characters and performances, locations and cinematography, research and realism, music, audio, set design, stunts, effects and action, working with the studio, and other aspects of the flick.

Russell seems like a refreshingly frank filmmaker and his commentary adds lots of interesting and provocative information about the actual creation of the film. He's even willing to criticize his work at times, something that's pretty much absent from most commentaries. I really enjoyed Russell's track.

Next we hear from producers Charles Roven and Ed McDonnell. They sit together for their own running, screen-specific take on the film’s origins and development, bringing Russell on board, casting and performances, sets and locations, financial issues, and a variety of other production topics.

Roven and McDonnell are also chatty and engaging. Their track occasionally repeats notes from Russell’s, but not too much redundancy occurs. It's a useful commentary; my only criticism would be that Roven dominates and doesn't seem to give McDonnell much of a chance to speak.

Next comes a featurette called Under the Bunker: On the Set of Three Kings. This piece runs 21 minutes, 36 seconds and offers notes from Russell, Roven, McDonnell, producer Paul Junger Witt, military technical advisors Sgt. Mjr. Jim Parker and Lt. John Rottger, director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel, production designer Catherine Hardwicke, and actors George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Said Taghmaoui, Spike Jonze, Jabir and Ghanem Algarawi, Nora Dunn and Cliff Curtis.

“Bunker” examines Russell’s approach to the material, story and characters, training and realism, sets and locations, photography,

A Tour of the Iraqi Village Set runs for 10 minutes, 18 seconds as Hardwicke shows us the sets and discusses why she did what she did. Hardwicke proves chatty and informative so this program offers a nice look at a sometimes-neglected area of filmmaking.

Shot mainly by Russell, the Director's Video Journal fills 13 minutes, 40 seconds and serves as a pictorial diary of his experiences. Obviously it's been severely edited - one gets the impression Russell had his video camera with him everywhere - but it still provides some fascinating looks at what he did in the making of the film.

Four Deleted Scenes full a total of six minutes, 39 seconds. All four scenes seem quite interesting. I understand why they got cut but also feel they could easily have remained, which isn't usually the case

We can view these with or without commentary from Russell. He briefly discusses the clips and communicates why he removed them. Russell adds useful notes.

Next we find an Interview with Director of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel. This seven-minute, 10-second program essentially provides Sigel's narration on top of shots from movie.

His comments usually relate to what's on screen at the time, and he provides some decent information about the photographic choices made during the filming. Some of this data is a bit redundant from other sources, but it's still a worthwhile piece.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find An Intimate Look Inside the Acting Process With Ice Cube. Jonze shot this tongue-in-cheek two-minute, 21-second production and offers Cube's "serious" discussions of how to act.

We see Cube focus on a "crucial" line that he has to offer. It's a very funny piece.

Under Special Photography, we get 22 stills. Shot by Jonze, these offer a decent glimpse of the sets.

Two text features complete the disc. Cast & Crew simply lists some of the actors and others, whereas Production Notes splits into four domains: “Origins”, “Historical Basis”, “The Iraqis” and “Different Film Stocks”. The “Notes” aren’t extensive but they add good material.

Note that a mix of Easter Eggs pop up through the Special Features menu. Most of these offer codes to use if you access the disc’s DVD-ROM materials, but we also get a TV spot and perhaps some other bits I missed.

Ultimately, Three Kings provides a very satisfying experience. The film itself has some flaws but nonetheless seems exciting and stimulating. The DVD offers solid audio and supplements but picture seems subpar. This becomes an iffy release for a good movie.

To rate this film, visit the Blu-ray review of THREE KINGS

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main