Nestled between The Sixth Sense and Magnolia in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die is Three Kings, David O. Russell’s post-Persian Gulf War story of soldiers from different ranks who find themselves working together to steal (back) gold bullion that belonged to Kuwait and help refugees along the way.
George Clooney (Archie Gates) is set to retire from duty, Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) is a new family man wanting to get home to his wife and kids as much as he is a hero at war and Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) keeps them all together. Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze) is a hero, too and forms a bond with Barlow as they work on their mission to help people and ultimately get home.
It seems simple in the beginning, get the gold and leave, but the people the soldiers encounter along the way — both friends and enemies — lead them to ending the cease fire in place after the war and to be at odds with their own country’s orders.
Three Kings has some subtle comedic undertones and quirk associated with Russell in the beginning, but it’s ultimately an action and war drama with a mix of cinematic styles and actors that effectively balance the struggles of their individual characters with the theme of the movie as a whole.
Russell also incorporates media coverage of the war and the Three Kings’ final mission into the story as an additional way to tell what is happening on screen that also pulls it all together in the end.
I will say the score, especially the instrumental pieces with heavy percussion (kind of reminded me of Birdman), in some of the more intense moments of the film mixed with tunes from Chicago and The Beach Boys, is unexpected but fits perfectly in Three Kings.
I don’t know how I missed this film during the year I graduated high school, especially since I’ve seen most of the titles also listed from that year in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (Fight Club, American Beauty, The Blair Witch Project, The Matrix and Being John Malkovich), but I can tell it’s one that stands the test of time having just seen it 17 years since its release in theaters.
One last thought, I enjoyed the cameos in Three Kings. Points if you can spot Jim Gaffigan. He saves the day.