In David O Russells wild 1999 caper, action-packed comedy serves as a sneaky shell for a damning criticism of American foreign policy
” Are we shooting? Are we still shooting people or what ?”
That’s the opening line to David O Russell’s Three Kings and a thesis statement, too. It’s March 1991 and the Gulf war has just aimed, but Sergeant Troy Barlow( Mark Wahlberg) doesn’t know whether the armed Iraqi soldier he’s spied in his scope is a target or not. And the yokels behind him are no help, either: one of them has a grain of sand stuck in his eye. After Barlow takes the shot, the first action any of them have seen in the war, he and his men hover over the twitching body in a scene that recalls the felled sniper at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. In both instances, a piece of their humanity is lost, and in both instances not one of them could tell you why.
From there, Russell cuts to a delirious montage of soldiers celebrating the victory like athletes which has recently won a championship game. Probably only a few of them played in the game or understood the rules or even knew what winning meant, other than perhaps ending a miserable, listless tour in the desert. Threading together a party mix that ricochets, among other sungs, from Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA to Public Enemy’s Can’t Do Nuttin’ for Ya Man- an incompatible define of artists if there ever was one- Russell may seem like he’s hijacking the delirious rock’n’roll surrealism of Apocalypse Now, but he’s establishing the wild disconnect between the American experience of the Gulf war and what the end of the war actually means for Iraqis. It turns out that” Woo! We liberated Kuwait !” doesn’t tell the story.
It’s been 20 years since Three Kings, Russell’s confident foray into studio film-making after the indie slapsticks Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster, stormed into theaters. Since that time, there’s been a bigger, splashier sequel to the Gulf war and a war in Afghanistan, but the rationale for both isn’t much better than the urgent need to ” liberate” a Middle Eastern country that most people couldn’t locate on a map. Both of those wars were premised on a terrorist threat, an answer to an attack that happened almost exactly two years after Three Kings came out, but some of young men and women eligible to enlist in 2019 were only newborns on 9/11. Their rationale for being there indefinitely has become as obscure as the path to victory. No doubt some of them are out there now, considering how night-vision goggles run during the day.
Three Kings uncannily foreseen the mission drift, the refugee crisis and the forever wars that have beset the United Nation since it came out, but eight years after Operation Desert Storm objective, Russell just wanted audiences to know what the hell it was all about. Working from a tale by John Ridley- a whole screenplay, really, which led to an ugly attribution dispute– Russell utilizes a thrilling update on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to smuggle in a sophisticated treatment of the chaos and tragedy that filled the vacuum left by the US at the end of the war. Russell is pulling off two jobs at once here: just as his marauders use the postwar chaos to smuggle $23 m in gold bullion (” No , not the little cubes you put in hot water to attain soup “), his film employs an action-packed heist comedy to smuggle a damning assessment of American foreign policy.
Read more: www.theguardian.com