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Three Kings begins when the Gulf War is over. Amid the partying and confusion, four American soldiers, determined to take home more than sand fleas, go off into the Iraqi desert to find millions in stolen Kuwaiti bullion. They are plunged into the heart of a democratic uprising that spins the day and their lives out of control.
For more about Three Kings and the Three Kings Blu-ray release, see Three Kings Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 11, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Doug Jones, Cliff Curtis
Director: David O. Russell
» See full cast & crew
Three Kings Blu-ray Review
Why is it called 'Three Kings' when there are four of them?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 11, 2010
We Three Kings be stealin' the gold.
It's title might not make much sense, but everything else about Three Kings is just about perfect. One of but a handful of pictures to tell a story set during the Gulf War of 1991, Director David O. Russell's film is a masterpiece of divergent cinema. The film's brilliant structure that juxtaposes the jubilation of a rapid victory, the horrors of war, man's innate greed, and the power of the heart and soul to supersede the wants and needs of the body and mind makes Three Kings a War picture that finds much more meaning beyond its generalized action scenes and combat setting. That's true of all the genre greats, for what better setting to find the very essence of man than on the field of battle where his faith, principles, and very life are challenged with every step, every breath, every weapon aimed, every shot fired? Three Kings is a film where the defined war may be over, but the personal war raging in many men's souls is only beginning. What begins in Three Kings as a snatch-and-grab operation meant to pad the pockets of several soldiers becomes a hauntingly disturbing and all-too-real glimpse into the terrors that lie beyond lines in the sand and markings on a map; it's a three-dimensional world in war, and that third plane of existence is home to the repercussions of war, the people who both suffer and benefit through it, and the place where personal decisions and guiding compasses are put to their truest tests. What's even better is that Three Kings is just as entertaining as it is dramatically elegant and thematically purposeful; as far as all-around films go, they don't come much better than this.
The Persian Gulf War may be winding down, but the true face of the conflict is about to reveal itself to four American serviceman as they quest to find a stash of gold bullion located around Karbala, a small village that lies beyond the Army's current range of operations. Reservist Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg, The Perfect Storm) and the uneducated Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze, Where the Wild Things Are) discover a map while strip searching enemy prisoners. They recruit their Staff Sergeant, Chief Elgin (Ice Cube, xXx), to aid them in deciphering its content and, ultimately, lead them on a mission to steal the gold from under Saddam's nose and leave the war with a few million dollars in gold bricks for their troubles. As fate would have it, Special Forces Major Archie Gates (George Clooney, Up in the Air) learns of the gold and the men planning to seize it. He wants in on the action, and armed with a humvee, a few M-16s, and some explosive footballs, the quartet set out in search of their prize. Along the way, they also see firsthand the horrors of war and the beginnings of genocide that's the result of the Coalition's abandonment of the Iraqi people following the liberation of Kuwait. The men must choose wealth or honor as they find their fortune but in the process must discover what they're truly made of.
Three Kings begins with a surreal sequence of events that depict soldiers who are everything but afraid of the war-torn world around them. A grain of sand stuck in an eye and the availability of an extra piece of chewing gum have taken center stage, and it's only when an armed combatant -- waving a white flag, no less -- appears in the distance do the men finally snap back into the reality of the potentially hostile environment in which they're patrolling. It sets the stage nicely for a movie that depicts the war at its end, though as the film moves along, it becomes clear that the real war begins only after peace is declared, not only for the four plunderers but for hundreds of thousands of locals around Iraq as seen through a microcosm of the events that play out in and around Karbala. The film centers around the question as to whether money in the bank or a clean conscience holds more value; it's no surprise which one wins out at the end, but Three Kings still finds meaning along the way as the journey unfolds, not only in the realm of absolute right and absolute wrong but in the characters' journey towards moral and personal enlightenment that allows them to not necessarily find fault with their plan, but to quickly re-prioritize their mission and risk their futures and lives for a cause in which they find themselves free to ignore but unable to disregard. They learn that war -- not only in the Gulf but as a general and unforgiving entity at large -- isn't about facts and figures and what's written in history books or, more relevant to this film's plot, what's reported on television, but instead the hardships that exist in the wake of war that go unseen, unreported, and unimagined once the final word on the war's been written and the streets cleaned after the celebratory ticker-tape parade.
Though it's grounded in well-conceived and purposeful drama, Three Kings is also a picture with built-in energy and plenty of excitement to spare. Russell's film finds a fantastic balance where the drama remains the focal point but is supported by perfectly-realized humor and several well-constructed action scenes. The film uses the culture and popular music of its era to perfectly define -- in the first act in particular -- the easygoing spirit that's to be challenged by film's end, and several popular culture references only add to a few haunting back-and-forth exchanges between characters during a difficult interrogation session. That injection of popular culture only makes the movie all the more harrowing as the spoils of everyday life are contrasted -- sometimes harshly -- against the backdrop of genocide that's playing out up the road or in front of the characters' eyes, leaving them to choose their relaxed and relatively safe life or a dangerous involvement into local matters at the potential cost of their jobs and lives. Better still, the camaraderie that exists between the primary cast helps both the easygoing spirit of the first act and the grim realities of the second and third along tremendously to the point that the dialogue, friendships, and commitment to one another and to a greater cause all seem both personalbly relatable and naturally developed as the film goes through the paces of setting up the conflict while endearing the Four Kings into the hearts of the viewers. It's that bond they share that exists even through their unique personalities, the witty dialogue they speak, and the decisions they make that all help ground the film in a believable aura that solidifies the picture's many qualities but allows the most important to effortlessly take center stage by the final act. Last but not least, Director David O. Russell's picture benefits from some handheld camerawork and a deliberately gritty and unforgiving texture that works well even if aspects of the film's visual style has, over the last decade, become the de facto look for modern-day war pictures.
Three Kings Blu-ray, Video Quality
Three Kings is a film well-known for its unusual visual scheme. Warner's Blu-ray holds true to Director David O. Russell's intended look, but the transfer isn't without a few blemishes that seem to exist beyond the film's unique façade. This 1080p transfer retains the edgy rough-and tumble visuals nicely; grain spikes at times and occasionally appears rather messy and noisy, though the image is relatively free of its swirling and heavy grain structure in some places. Whites often appear blown out and contrast seems all over the map, both adding their own flavor to the picture's unorthodox presentation. Colors reflect a more earthen quality but appear stable and handsomely rendered throughout the movie, again insofar as they seem to replicate the film's theatrical presentation. Detail is often striking, with uniforms, sandy terrain, and facial structures revealing incredible textures and pinpoint details throughout the film. Additionally, blacks are strong and convincing. Unfortunately, unsightly compression artifacts often lend a chunky appearance to background images, while light banding is also present. Faces occasionally look pasty and flat, though in a more general sense flesh tones appear healthy and natural, even through the film's gritty look. A few pops and scratches are evident as well. Three Kings is a difficult picture to judge; it's certainly not meant to be the most handsome image ever captured on film, and while Warner's transfer delivers it in all its rough-and-tumble glory and graces it with some incredible detailing and a handsome film-like texture, a few various issues that seem to have crept into the transfer and that appear to be separate from Russell's vision drop the score a couple of notches.
Three Kings Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner Brothers graces Three Kings with a strong DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. The boisterous celebratory music that plays near the beginning of the film is loud but suffers from a slightly cramped feel as it seems more confined to the area between the center speaker and front right and left channels; it lacks the spaciousness and pinpoint clarity of the best tracks, but it's certainly a fair presentation. Such holds true through much of the movie; the track never quite opens up fully, though the action scenes do deliver some of exciting sound effects, plenty of surround channel activity, and a fair amount of bass. A grenade fired from an RPG shoots across the soundstage in one scene while a ricocheting bullet seamlessly bounces through several speakers in another. Heavy machine gun fire tears through the listening area at several points throughout the film with a good bit of power and precision. Surrounds are not used as much in the film's quieter scenes; ambience is limited allowing the track's perfectly-realized dialogue to remain front-and-center. The soundtrack finds a nice balance that allows it to play as naturally aggressive but not dominantly so. Music could stand for a bit more space and clarity, but overall, Warner Brothers' lossless soundtrack suits the movie well.
Three Kings Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Three Kings features a quality assortment of bonus materials, including two audio commentary tracks. Track one features Director David O. Russell sharing his draw to the script, his reworking of it, shooting locations, the picture's themes and contrasts, the performances of the cast, the picture's many elements that were grounded in realism, the film's visual style, and plenty more. Russell's commentary is highly enjoyable and uniquely informative; fans of the film need to give this one a listen. The second track, helmed by Producers Charles Roven and Edward L. McDonnell, is also worthwhile but not up to the level of excellence established by the director commentary. They discuss the film from a slightly less personal and detached perspective but still speak on their work as producers, the contributions and work of David O. Russell, the casting process, the rigors of the shoot, the film's visual style, the themes and the plot, and more. Both commentaries are of a high quality, but Russell's is the one to choose on a time crunch.
Four featurettes are next. Under the Bunker: On the Set of 'Three Kings' (480p, 21:32) takes viewers to Arizona for a candid glimpse into the difficulties of the shoot, the basics of the plot, the casts' training for the roles, shooting locations, the film's authenticity, shooting styles, and more; the piece is constructed by cast and crew interview clips, behind-the-scenes footage, and scenes from the film. On the Set of 'Three Kings' with Production Designer Catherine Hardwicke (480p, 10:15) takes audiences into the various locations and set pieces and showcases the work that went into their creation. The Cinematography of 'Three Kings:' An Interview with Director of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel (480p, 7:06) features the DP discussing the picture's unique visual flair. Finally, Director David O. Russell's 'Three Kings' Video Journal (480p, 13:37) features the director at work during the pre-production phase of the filmmaking process, ending with a look at the film's premiere. Next up is An Intimate Look Inside the Acting Process with Ice Cube (480p, 2:21), a brief piece that features the actor preparing for a scene. A selection of deleted scenes (480p, 6:37) with optional director commentary is followed by the Three Kings trailer (480p, 2:10).
Three Kings Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
For whatever reason, the Persian Gulf War of 1991 hasn't found favor with filmmakers; perhaps it's the smaller scale, the absence of turmoil at home, or the relative ease with which victory was achieved in terms of sheer military strength and tactics. Whatever the reason, the War hasn't generated the quantity of films born from the Second World War and Vietnam, but that doesn't mean what is available lacks in quality. Indeed, pictures like Bravo Two Zero, Jarhead, and Three Kings are among the best War films of the past several decades. What makes Three Kings so special is that the time and place doesn't make much difference in the grand scheme of the story; the film is constructed around a universal and timeless tale of the human condition that pits man against himself as he weighs his own life and well-being against those of the less fortunate, forcing him to decide if personal satisfaction or morality will guide him through the most difficult of obstacles and most challenging of decisions. Director David O. Russell's picture is smart and meaningful on several levels, but it's also highly entertaining and a technical achievement. It's a near perfect movie and certainly a classic of its genre. Warner Brothers' Blu-ray release of Three Kings delivers some entertaining extras and a fine lossless soundtrack, but the 1080p transfer has some issues that seem to exist beyond the intentionally gritty façade that's the film's intended appearance. It still makes for a worthy high definition presentation, and fans shouldn't hesitate to pick it up. Recommended.
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Three Kings Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Three Kings Blu-ray Announced - June 15, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced the Blu-ray release of Three Kings, with a street date of October 12. This 1999 war movie starring George Clooney had such an unconventional cinematography that when it came out on DVD, the studio added a "do not adjust your set" ...
• Warner Catalog Blu-ray Slate for 2010 Revealed - January 27, 2010
Veteran site DVD Town has published a post revealing the release dates for many titles that Warner Home Video intends to release on Blu-ray during all of 2010, including some bona fide classics, a comedy wave in August, science-fiction in September, a couple of ...
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