I do not believe there has been a quintessential Gulf War movie. I suspect after Operation Iraqi Freedom and its lingering aftermath taking precedence over the original conflict that we ever will. Three Kings is as close as we have come the cinematic representation of the war. I am willing to retract that statement if someone can convince me otherwise.
Here is why I think so--the Gulf War was a CNN/Nintendo war. I certainly do not want to detract from anyone who served in the conflict, nor do I question the merit of it. Oil runs the western world. Its free flow is vital to the gears of the planet. What I actually mean is how the war was packaged to the American public as almost a sporting event. The human factor was far removed from our eyes as we followed the Scud Stud Arthur Kent while munching pop corn on the living room couch.
At the same time, the anti-war movement, such that it was, was farcical. This was not Vietnam in which kids are running the risk of being drafted and dying while doing a job the French and South Vietnamese out to have been doing. The protests were anemic, had no soul, and were generally too late. Victory was quickly achieved.
So it is difficult to create any kind of serious satire of the Gulf War. Civilians never took it seriously, so the antiwar sentiments look ridiculous. Hence, David o. Russell, who is very clearly dead set against the war, cannot create a very compelling film about it. Without looking overly pretentious. Of course, we are talking about Russell here. He is overly pretentious.
He is also a jerk with no scruples. There are two conflicts regarding the film that are more famous than the film itself. For one, Russell took the script from writer John Ridley, rewrote it to his liking without any input from Ridley, then took his name off the finished product. The studio forced a written by credit for Ridley, but he ought to have been treated far better. Two, Russell had a big falling out with star George Clooney. The crux of their animosity involved an extra who has an epileptic seizure onset for which Russell showed indifference and another in which he allegedly assaulted another extra who was having trouble with a fight scene. Needless to say, the production was troubled.
It does not show on screen, however. I chalk that up exclusively to the cast. Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, ice Cube, and Spike Jonz are superb as regular guys thrust into a combat situation they do not fully understand. The film is worth watching just for them, particularly how they progress from joining in with Archie Gates’ (Clooney’s0 plan to steal a shipment of Kuwait gold from Iraq to learning empathy for the Iraqi refugees Saddam Hussein is now slaughtering in the post-war environment.
The film places the blame for the slaughter squarely on the shoulders of George Bush. His call for the Iraqi people to rise up was interpreted as the creation of an alliance between dissidents and the united States in a military sense. Said alliance never materialized. Yet Russell would not want the US to support such an effort, either, so what is the message he is trying to send?
I do not know and that is the problem. Three Kings is farcical, occasionally inappropriate humor interrupted by nihilistic horror. The violence is brutal, the wounds suffered by characters are savagely stomach churning, yet the comedy often borders on slapstick because of how stupid virtually every American other than Gates is. The Americans are thieves who are never true to their words, yet help save refugees from the Iraqi military. It is not a feel good story by any means.
I would probably watch it again at some point down the road, but it is largely an unpleasant experience. I get the impression it is supposed to be that way. If so, kudos to a mission accomplished. My emotions regarding the gluf war have long since faded to the point I do not care one way or the other who activist artists feel about it. The best I can muster is mild ambivalence .
Rating: ** (out of 5)