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Three Kings (1999)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/12/2010

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/6/2010

When a movie is based on real-life, we approach it in a specific way, based on what we know and, more importantly what we know at the time. When Three Kings was released in 1999, we had a specific view on the situation in the Middle East, where it was at the time, and where it was going. Watching the movie today, puts a totally different spin on the story.

Three Kings takes place in 1991, at the end of the Persian Gulf War. The U.S. troops stationed in the Iraqi desert are bored and confused, as they still aren't clear on their mission. While processing prisoners, Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) finds that one is hiding a map. He shares this with fellow soldiers Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) and Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze), and they feel that it may be a treasure map. Archie Gates (George Clooney) gets wind of the map and confronts Barlow and Elgin about it. After seeing the map, Gates decides that the map may show the way to the Kuwaiti gold bullion which was stolen by Saddam Hussein. Gates creates a plan, complete with a diversion, so that the four can follow the map, grab the gold, and be back before anyone suspects a thing. However, once they enter the small Iraqi village, they find that the situation on-the-ground is more out-of-control and dangerous than they ever expected.

I rarely bring politics into my reviews, but it's nearly impossible to watch Three Kings and not reflect on what the movie means today. The action in the film takes place some 20 years ago, as the first part of the Gulf War was winding down. It's chilling to think that U.S. troops are still in that part of the world attempting to keep the peace. The movie clearly has a sense that it's taking a slightly-removed look at the violence in Iraq and it doesn't pull any punches in showing that the soldiers are disorganized and question why they are there. Eleven years after the release of the movie, it's flippant attitude towards the war seem even more shocking, as most of us have grown so numb to the stories of soldiers being killed in that part of the world.

Of course, it's also good to go back and visit Three Kings as it's a very well-made movie, as it's that rare film which works on two levels. First of all, the movie is an excellent drama/political thriller. The movie's unflinching view of the soldiers' apathy towards the situation around them until it's truly shoved in their faces creates the emotional crux of the film. What was meant to be a simple heist turns into an attempt right many of the wrongs created by the war. This forces the viewer to think about the fact that, yes, the soldiers fighting in the war are in danger, but simply by being Americans, their lives are better than so many around them. Three Kings also plays very well as an action movie. There are some great action set-pieces which rival any straight-ahead war movie from a well-known action film maker. The scene with the helicopter really stands out and shows that action scenes can still be suspenseful.

Seeing Three Kings again, the thing that really stood out to me was how cinematic the film is. Director David O. Russell uses some very interesting film devices to give some of the scenes a very unique look. The most intriguing of these is the two moments where he uses anatomically correct effects to illustrate what is going on inside a soldier's body. These moments are fascinating and it immediately made me check Russell's bio to see what he's made since. He has some upcoming projects, but the only thing of note since Three Kings was the awful I ( ) Huckabee's. If you haven't seen Three Kings in a while, it's certainly worth checking out again. The movie's politics are possibly even more fascinating today and you'll see a movie which combines a great story, action, and filmmaking.

Three Kings shows just how dangerous footballs can be on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc carries VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material. However, some grain is visible throughout. Efforts were made to give the movie a washed-out, almost colorless look, and while this is admirable, it has given the movie an odd appearance on this HD transfer. The movie looks the way that Russell intended, but it also looks overly-bright and drained. The image has a nice amount of detail and some of the landscape shots show good depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are well-done, as they make us aware of what is happening off-screen. The action scenes sound great, most notably when gunfire passes from the front channel to the rear speakers. The subwoofer effects during the action scenes are wall-shaking.

The Three Kings Blu-ray Disc contains a wealth of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring Director David O. Russell. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY with Producers Charles Roven and Edward L. McDonnell. "Under the Bunker: On the Set of Three Kings" (22 minutes) is a fairly standard featurette which takes us behind the scenes on the making of the film. We get on-set footage, as well as comments from the cast and crew. The piece does go above and beyond with being honest about the difficulty in filmmaking. "On the Set of Three Kings: A Guided Tour with Production Designer Catherine Hardwicke" (10 minutes) is exactly what it sounds like, as the future director of Twilight discusses how Arizona doubled for Iraq. "The Cinematography of Three Kings: An Interview with Director of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel" (7 minutes) is, again, pretty straight-forward, as he talks about how the look of the film was achieved, and how the look reflected the film's themes. "Director David O. Russell's Three Kings Video Journal" (14 minutes) gives us an inside look at the filmmaker at work during different parts of the production. The Disc contains four DELETED SCENES, which run about 7 minutes and can be viewed with commentary from Russell. All of these are brief, but we do learn where Conrad get that weird gun. "An Intimate Look at the Acting Process with Ice Cube" (2 minutes) is an odd short piece. The final extra is the film's THEATRICAL TRAILER.

Review by Mike Long.  Copyright 2010.