Movie Review

Three Kings

MPAA Rating: R for graphic war violence, language and some sexuality.

Reviewed by: Timothy Blaisdell
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adult
Genre:
Drama, Action, Adventure
Length:
2 hr. 5 min.
R

Starring: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Nora Dunn. | Directed by: David O. Russell. | Produced by: Paul Junger Witt, Charles Roven. | Distributed by: Warner Bros.

“Three Kings” is a hard movie to categorize. It’s being advertised as a dark comedy, and that’s probably where it fits best, but it’s really a scathing political satire, which I suspect most Republican conservative Christians will find troubling and offensive. At the same time it tries to be a drama about human nature (both the evil and the good), and great personal sacrifice in the cause of justice.

To summarize the plot without giving away too much, the “three kings” are three American army men. The “Desert Storm” war has officially ended when a routine search of POW’s reveals one with a top-secret map hidden in his buttocks. The map leads to a hoard of Kuwaiti gold, stolen by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The men, who are super-materialistic Americans through and through, decide to covertly go after the gold without the knowledge of their superior officers. Their adventure leads them in a very different direction when they witness the cruelty of the Iraqis upon the Kuwaiti resistance, which has faltered after having been abandoned by the American military.

The dark humor which gives the movie its sarcastic tone is aimed at mocking both the American motivation for involvement in the war, and the Iraqi motivation for starting it. It succeeds very well at both, and I found myself laughing outwardly, while inwardly staggering as I considered how closely the portrayal resembled what I remember hearing, seeing, and suspecting during the actual event.

As I said, there is a LOT to be offended at from a Christian viewpoint. If you are a conservative Republican who thinks that the Reagan-Bush era was the best thing since Abraham Lincoln, and that the Gulf War was waged with the highest moral motivations of liberty and justice for all, you will not appreciate this movie. On the other hand, the film illustrates very well the Biblical view of human nature, and the concept of sacrifice and humiliation for the good of others is graphically stated.

The film has a great deal of cursing and swearing (over 50 uses of the “f” word). A man’s bare buttocks are shown briefly (that’s where the map was hidden), and there’s a scene where a man and a woman are shown having sex in an office (fully clothed, and showing nothing).

I gave the film a Moral Rating of 2 because it is offensive. It may deserve a worse rating depending upon your political views, and your opinion of the whole Gulf War.

Year of Release—1999

Viewer Comments
Since when should we rate Christian value by whether or not it offends Republican-minded viewers? Let’s not put our politics on the same level as our faith. Movie—I can’t condone the violence and language (that’s a bigger issue), but the movie makes a good point: the Gulf War (like any war) was ugly. No sanitized “America saves the day again” images here, like we saw back during the actual event. This is war, and it’s not a nice thing. Just my 2 cents (worth about 1.4 cents in your funds I imagine). My Ratings: [2½/3½]
—Evan Falk, age 21
I took my wife and parents to see this movie and was terribly embarrassed. There was tremendous blood and gore that offered no substance at all to the movie. Overall, I felt as though this was a “de-sensitizing” movie. Blood/gore and death were thrown in your face one minute, and the next minute the movie tries to get you laughing. This death-laugh-death-laugh routine persisted throughout the entire movie. What better way to de-value human life?!? Please don’t see this movie. My Ratings: [1/1]
—Scott Raches, age 29
The film has its bad parts, such as the sex and the cussing. However, every Christian and American citizen should try to understand the underlying message of the film. THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT! It makes mistakes, the Gulf War was fueled by greed not justice. It disappoints me that so many people who saw the movie missed the point and spend half of the time bashing on the bad part of the film. My Ratings: [3/4]
—Mike Chin, age 21
Your commentators seem to have missed the point of this movie. For one thing, it is clear to any genuine Christian that the Gulf War was motivated by that most human of perversions—greed. As one of the Iraqi characters points out so graphically, the war was about about oil, not liberty or justice, and as he righfully states, there are many repressions around the world that the west does not sully their hands with. In fact, the US actually finances and supports some of them, as they did the Iraqi regime before expediency dictated a different course. I would also take issue with the comment concerning an obviously Christian character praying a muslim prayer. Nonsense. What I saw was a man moved by the faith of others who offered a prayer to his own God. Much as we may know our path to be the right one, we should nonetheless respect the religious convictions of others. Finally, the underlying message of the story was one of redemption and making the right moral choice after pursuing the wrong path initially. The establishment figures would have abandoned the Iraqi rebels to their bloody fates, yet the three Kings were unwilling to let that happen, and chose the moral path over and above their personal greed and self interest. Hollywood is to be applauded for a refreshing, thought provoking and original film, one not afraid to tackle fundamental moral issues… My Ratings: [5/5]
—David Parsons, age 27
The first five minutes of this movie was so offensive that my wife walked out, and as a Christian husband I was ashamed that she reacted to the Spirit faster than I did. I desire to be her protection from unGodly graphic images and sounds that can erode the intimacy of a marriage. The “partially clothed” sex act casually mentioned in other reviews is made even more perverse by the woman shouting gutter levels vulgarities about the sex act, at a level usually restricted to porn films. Especially, since she is loud (making the viewer think she is really enjoying herself) and contextualized by a perceived excitment (based on the world’s notion) of dangerous sex (they’re in a radio room with people outside) and early sensory shock of the viewer since this hits you within minutes of the beginning. For me, this movie was so offensive on so many levels that seeing it is more than a waste of time and money, its insensitive. Often we Christians color an acceptance of casual movie/tv sex as a part of the plot and make it sound tolerable by saying that those things “are okay for adults.” These sexual images and sounds have no place within the wonder and beauty of what God gave husbands and wives to enjoy. It belittles God’s kindness and underminds the mind of Christ which is what we are told in scripture to hold, even in our love making. Please, forgive my preaching, but this movie is not, in my opinion, something any Christian should see.
—Gary Gunn, age 49
Your review was courageous given the subject matter and content of the film. Yes, there is much to offend in the movie. And it certainly is not for children. Yet, the film’s multiple viewpoints—that of the soldier in the field, the civilian Arab, even a somewhat sympathetic member of Sadam Hussein’s army—are rich ground for a re-assessment about what the Gulf War was all about. A difficult movie for many Christians, but worthy of consideration for those who have a stomach for violence.
—Stephen LaBreche, age 48
Three Kings is in many ways as good a war film as “Saving Private Ryan,” although it’s in an altogether different class… The excellence of this film comes in the unfolding of circumstances that forces each of the four soldiers to confront their own moral standards and humanity. Some warnings: Three Kings is an adult film. There’s a completely gratuitious sex scene near the beginning of the film, and there are repeated—but not necessarily gratuitous—depictions of brutality and violence, and the language is what you’d expect Hollywood to deliver in this type of film. A bright spot is the film’s cinematographer, who employs some cutting-edge styles—washouts, slow-motion that suddenly speeds up, sharp zooms and unique angles—that some filmgoers may find annoying, but which I appreciated. Christians may find value in some aspects of this film. For example, one of the soldiers, an African-American from Detroit, professes a kind of home-grown faith in Jesus and generally—albeit a bit loosely—follows through in the way he conducts himself onscreen. But what Three Kings does best is present very human characters who for the most part chose to “do the right thing.” Three Kings is in no way appropriate for anyone under 16.
—Richard F. Schmitz, age 43
Three Kings was in fact a non-stop entertaining movie. The profanity [and violence] was high. I think many scenes were put in this movie to add shock value to it (cow being blown up, graphic depiction of gunshot wounds). In these scenes of shock a dark humor is presented. This movie allowed me to peek inside Desert Storm and see that it was not just a joke. At the same time, I understand this is a Hollywood depiction. I believe that a Christian should always watch w/ Christian eyes. Ask questions about the pictures. For example; what is this movie trying to convey? George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube all did fine jobs acting in this picture.
—Jeremy Sarver, age 21
…There are plenty of negative elements in this war story. The use of the f-word and s-word was almost too numerous to count. God’s name taken in vain is frequently found. The violent scenes are grotesque and often emphasized with “slow motion” photography. The movie also shows views of torture. “Three Kings” is not without a scene with explicit sex. The positive elements of this film are few. The soldiers, while in pursuit of gold, stop and help some Iraqi civilians. One soldier offers a prayer to Jesus, but later also offers an Islamic prayer. George Clooney (as Maj. Archie Gates) is outstanding. He begged the producer and director of this film to have that role. It is his best big screen role yet. This movie has too much vulgarity and violence to recommend to anyone. I am not sure a “war buff” would even enjoy this one.
—Douglas Downs, age 44
…Warnings: Extreme, military-grade profanity throughout; also some racist language. A scene of Gates having sex with a female reporter (both partially clothed). One of the “Kings”, a black Sergeant (played by Ice Cube), claims Divine guidance (the “holy fire of Jesus”) for his actions, including going on this mission of thievery; later, he prays with Muslims. Multiple scenes of mistreatment of civilians by Iraqi soldiers. A lot of violence and gore, some inserted just for shock’s sake. Weird special effects are sometimes used to literally illustrate the dialogue. When an Iraqi asks one of the Kings how he’d like it if his wife and baby were blown up, we see it happen. During a discussion of how a bullet wound causes sepsis, we see the inside of a human body—heart and lungs still working—being putrefied. All the objectionable material is made worse by the lack of a clear moral purpose or even anything positive to identify with throughout most of the film. No one is in charge, there are no rules, and everyone is an anti-hero; so you either distance yourself from the film entirely, or identify with whoever seems least bad. I’d call it mostly a waste of time and recommend it for adults only.
Brett Willis, age 49
What can I say about a film that features a cow being blown to bits and played up as a joke? Nothing much positive, unfortunately. …The camera never stops moving, but I found the constant zipping and zagging to be headache-inducing. …Much of the violence in this film is senseless, and it is non-stop. There are also incidents of torture, and several scenes have people being riddled with bullets. At one point, the audience is shown what really happens when a bullet enters the body. Fortunately, I have a strong stomach; others might find themselves looking for the exits. There is only one sex scene, but the foul language content is high. Even a female reporter (an otherwise good job by Nora Dunn, formerly of TV’s Saturday Night Live) proves she can talk just as rough as the guys. There are also many racial slurs. Three Kings is definitely not for kids or teens (who may be drawn because of the presence of rapper Ice Cube). Adults should be wary, as well.
—Hillari Hunter, age 37
…their greed did not go unpunished, and there were serious consequences. …at one point in the movie compassion for people overtook their mission of greed. …a sex scene in the very beginning (no nudity shown, however sounds and motions are plenty). …a moderate amount of language and violence. Some of the violence is graphic. Certainly not for younger teens, so heed the “R” rating.
—Randy Parker, age 20
Movie Critics
…gross and graphic violence, a sandstorm of foul language and gratuitous sexual content earn THREE KINGS an extremely objectionable rating.
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review