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Film: Three Kings
"We three kings be stealing the gold.."

Three Kings is a 1999 movie directed by David O Russell and starring George Clooney, Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg, and Spike Jonze.

It's a comedy/drama set during the Iraqi uprising at the end of the 1991 Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm. During the surrender of Iraqi soldiers, one Iraqi soldier is found to be concealing a map that ends up showing the location of gold that Saddam Hussein had plundered from Kuwait.

The four American soldiers sneak away from the camp, sending their attached journalist on a wild goose chase with another soldier, in order to find and steal the gold. Naturally, wacky hijinks ensue and the four soldiers become involved in the uprising.


This movie contains examples of:

  • AM/FM Characterization: One of the soldiers wants to listen to heavy metal music while going into battle. Another soldier criticizes his musical choice and suggest they go into battle with something soothing to calm their nerves and plays an easy-listening song, showing a definite personality clash.
  • Ass Shove: How the Treasure Map is hidden.
  • Batman Gambit: The soldiers and their rebel allies play this card on the guards of the Oasis Bunker, which holds Troy Barlow as a prisoner. Arriving in a fleet of luxury cars, one rebel dressed as an Iraqi general yells at the soldiers for their "failures" and claims that Saddam Hussein is coming to personally execute them. It gets most of the garrison to run away, making it easier for the Americans and the rebels to get inside and rescue Barlow.
  • Boom, Headshot: Vig claims that Troy did this to an Iraqi soldier when recalling an event that occurred at the beginning of the film.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Major Gates describes sepsis during a graphic shot of a bullet penetrating internal organs. Later, one character is shot in the chest and another character dies of sepsis.
    • The Nerf football rigged with C-4. Conrad Vig has an entire bag of them, and Chief Elgin uses one to take out a helicopter.
  • Child Soldier: One young boy was sniping Iraqi soldiers from a tower while the main characters retreated. The tank took care of him.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Most of the movie. Sad in particular seems to have learned his English from some rather foul mouthed American soliders.
  • Distracted from Death: Conrad dies unnoticed from a shoulder wound while everyone is tending to the seemingly more seriously injured Troy.
  • Doomed by Canon: The film hints that the Iraqi rebels could overthrow Saddam shortly after the first Gulf War. Anyone who's studied history should know how well that went...
  • Electric Torture: Troy. Incidentally, Mark Wahlberg was shocked for real during his torture scenes.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Subverted with Maj. Gates, as he is a decorated Ranger/Special Forces officer who is serving with Delta Force for his last month in the Army.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Although the main American soldiers were obviously stealing gold from the Iraqis, after seeing an innocent Iraqi woman executed, even Gates realizes that they probably went too far in their heist. Though the gold is still their ultimate goal, they also do what they can to help the Iraqi rebels as well after this incident.
  • Get Rich Quick Scheme: Major Gate's plans to steal the gold from the Iraqis.
  • Gulf War: The film takes place in the closing days of the Operation Desert Storm.
  • Hollywood Density: Played straight with the characters tossing and carrying gold bars. Somewhat averted with the suitcases, which rip immediately when picked up (although in real life the other suitcases would not be able to handle the load they did, either).
  • Imagine Spot: Used several times in the film, such as with Vig recalling Troy shooting an Iraqi soldier, and later Troy imagining his wife and child at home as a bomb blows up their house.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. The child soldier is killed by the tank.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Semi-lampshaded. Chief Elgin pistol whips an Iraqi soldier and his gun fires a round, which sends everyone diving for cover to avoid the ricochet. Afterward Gates tells him to keep his finger off the trigger.
  • Meaningful Name: "Three Kings" is one of the names given to the Biblical Magi.
  • Mood Whiplash: Everything was going fine, they got the gold in the truck, then some Iraqi soldier is ordered to shoot some woman in the head. He does.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Gates makes sure they get Troy back before they leave with the gold.
  • Non-Indicative Name: As per Meaningful Name, the "Three Kings" in question are not the lead characters, of whom there are four.
  • Not So Different: During the interrogation/torture sequence, Sad talks about how he only joined the army to provide for his wife and child. This visibly shakes Troy, who joined the Army Reserve for the extra cash to support his family. He also tells Troy about what happened to his family, and tells him to imagine his wife at home if they were suddenly hit by a bomb. After he's rescued, Troy is given a handgun to take some vengeance on his torturer. However, he instead just shoots into the wall nearby, showing that he's realized the pain and suffering Sad went through in his life.
  • Outranking Your Job: At the start of the film, Major Gates' assignment is to babysit a single reporter.
  • Pistol Whip: Chief Elgin smacks an Iraqi soldier with the butt of his pistol during the raid on the Karbala bunker, and ends up accidentally firing a shot as he had his finger on the trigger at the time.
  • Southern-Fried Private: Conrad Vig. For one, he's easily the dumbest of the four, he calls Iraqis "dune coons", and he repeatedly threatens to shoot Iraqi prisoners whenever dealing with them.
  • Super Cell Reception: One character manages to make a phone call to his wife, on a cell phone, in the middle of Iraq just after the First Gulf War, from inside a fortified bunker. Granted, he does go through a few phones before he finds one that works.
  • Totally Radical: A minor example. During the torture scene, Sad continually refers to Troy as "my main man," and at one point refers to torture as a "big bummer." Both are rather dated slang for a movie set in the first Gulf War. Justified, as the phrase was fairly common when he probably learned English.
  • Treasure Map: Found in a surrendering soldier's butt, and referred to as the "Iraqi ass map".
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The ending shows what each of the surviving characters do afterwards, along with the supposedly missing gold the Iraqis claim they have no knowledge of.

The Thin Red LineMilitary and Warfare FilmsTo End All Wars
The Thomas Crown AffairFilms of the 1990sTitus Andronicus

alternative title(s): Three Kings
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