David O. Russell Throwback Week, Post #1: Three Kings (1999)

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Gulf War, 1991, Iraq. There is a storm of bullets hailing down an a coup of soldiers. A vehicle pulls up in that blithely chaotic atmosphere and the aggressively mobile frame races to them. A woman gets out, and among all the screams and a halo of blasting armaments, shouts to his colleague, “Paco, start shooting!” Paco pulls out a camera and starts rolling.

I realized then, that she’s a journalist called Adriana Cruz who appeared at the beginning of the film. I also realized that David O. Russell has me trapped in his obscurely hilarious, pun-punching screenplay. Three Kings is a tight-strung film with a copious amount of dark humor and heartfelt originality packed into it. I now realize that Russell’s recent ventures Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of his unaccountable genius.

Three Kings Movie

I’m not going to talk about the plot here. George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube (from the Jump Street fame) and Spike Jonze (yes, the guy who created Her) populate the majority of Russell’s notoriously funny film which stabs the standard mold of war films in the heart and keeps twisting the knife till all the conventions in our mind are dead. The performances are first-rate, appropriately scaling the spectrum from wild craziness to warm humanity with one cue from this cinematic madman. Russell is not ashamed to engage in petty warfare for entertainment; even as he’s doing that, there is something rotten and true at the core of its purpose. It celebrates lunacy by way of conveying a tireless anti-war sentiment. All this while entertaining the crap out of its audience and driving them nuts, coercing them into thinking about the horrid reality of war.

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I laughed, I clutched my chest and looked for hope, and I came dangerously close to shedding a tear when I least expected to. Constantly defying categorization, Russell manages to channelize his narrative into unknown spheres. Every element, even Newton Sigel’s audacious cinematography is not inauthentic, because its visual pyrotechnics work so well. Truly, this is a war film for the ages. ‘Non-formulaic’ should be put on Russell’s doorbell. God knows if it already is.

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There is a scene where the aforementioned reporter breaks down completely looking at the woeful state of dead pelicans; the ones that are still alive can be seen choking miserably due to a massive oil spill. Russell masterfully ponders over the scene, as if taking a pause from the breathless turbulence of his storytelling, and quietly resigning to a more thoughtful side. This emotional shift is tectonic in scale, but it is somehow achieved evenly, leaving us with our thoughts suspended mid-air. Three Kings shook me to my senses. I’m going to keep sending my love to Mr Russell’s unfathomable craft by continuing this week’s throwback with Flirting With Disaster (1996). Watch this space for more.

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