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Film / Three Kings

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"We three kings be stealing the gold."

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

It's a war action film with Black Comedy elements, 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.

Three Kings contains examples of:

  • Aloof Leader, Affable Subordinate: Captain Doug Van Meter is the resident hardass, while Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow is the more laid back and easy going one.
  • America Saves the Day: Deconstructed; although the four American soldiers do eventually help out the Iraqi refugees, it was their selfish scheme to steal gold that landed them in trouble in the first place.
  • AM/FM Characterization: Conrad Vig wants to listen to heavy metal music while going into battle. Chief Elgin on the other hand 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.
    • They try to compromise by putting on another tape which turns out to be Middle Eastern music. They trade disgusted looks while the two Iraqis in the back seat smile and nod along to the beat.
  • Anti-Villain: In contrast to the usual Hollywood depiction of Arab villains. Säid lacks any of the sadistic tendencies that are common in similar films and is instead shown as a family man who only joined Saddam's army in order to provide for his wife and child. Which makes it all the more tragic when we learn that his wife was maimed and his son was killed by a bomb during the war, and makes his hatred of the United States more easy to understand.
  • Ass Shove: How the Treasure Map is hidden. The map is consistently referred to as the "Iraqi ass-map".
    Conrad: Do ya think it's important?
    Troy: Important enough to squeeze your cheeks for.
  • Badass Crew: Downplayed with the four Americans. Although they are trained soldiers and they are being led by a Special Forces officer, much of their success comes from the fact that they are going up against an Iraqi army that has already surrendered to them, and thus are no threat to them.
  • 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.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: On their way to the gold bunker Conrad laments how none of them got to see any action during the war. Major Gates then pulls over the humvee to show them the charred corpse of an Iraqi soldier who was killed by a bombing. In order to give the troops a first hand look of what "action" looks like.
  • Black Comedy: The film is absolutely rife with this, from having a cow be blown to tiny pieces by a cluster bomb, to an Iraqi discussing Michael Jackson during an interrogation.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted with a vengeance; not only does Chief Elgin survive, he's also the only one of the main characters to not suffer any sort of injury. In fact the only soldier to die out of the four-man squad is a white southerner.
  • Blood-Splattered Warrior: Played with; the main American soldiers do get covered in blood out on the field, but it's as a result of a cow stepping on a cluster bomb and having it's guts sprayed all over them. As oppose to being involved in any serious action. When the Iraqi soldiers see them, they naturally assume that they must have committed something truly gruesome in order to have been drenched in blood.
    Iraqi soldier: Look they are butchers covered in blood!
  • Bloody Hilarious: That poor goddamn cow...
    Conrad: Goddamn! Did y'all see that cows head fly up in the air!? That was like something outta of a fucking cartoon! Crazy!
  • Boom, Headshot!: Vig claims that Troy did this to an Iraqi soldier when recalling an event that occurred at the beginning of the film. This isn't exactly accurate.
    • How Major Gates deals with a sadistic Iraqi Republican Guard officer, in retaliation for him ordering the execution of an innocent woman. Complete with the man's blood splattering onto his face.
  • Bowdlerise: Sadly, the TV edit was a pretty big victim of this, as numerous edits had to be made in order for the film to be "acceptable" under the standards of basic TV. Such as removing most of the swearing along with some of the more violent parts of the film. A few notable examples include:
    • The scene in which a cow steps on a cluster bomb and has its guts sprayed all over the lead characters is completely omitted from most TV edits. Which creates a bit of a plot hole as the average TV viewer is left wondering as to why the four leads are suddenly covered in blood for no inexplicable reason. It doesn't help that another character points out that they're covered in blood.
    • The execution of the innocent Iraqi woman is either exempt or has the scene cut away before the gruesome part is shown, robbing the scene of its emotional impact.
    • Quite possibly the most egregious omission from the film is the scene in which Major Gates describes the dangers of sepsis poisoning complete with a graphic shot of a bullet showing the effects of said poisoning. A scene which plays an important part later on in the film when two of the characters are shot. With one being shot in the chest and the other one dying from the aforementioned poisoning.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Played straight when Troy is shot by an Iraqi Republican Guard in a heated firefight. The vest manages to stop the bullet and save his life.
  • Butt-Monkey: Poor old Specialist Walter Wogeman. The laughably inept soldier/buffon who goes through a Humiliation Conga over the course of the movie. In fact his status as the platoons resident Butt-Monkey is the reason that Major Gates chose him to take Adriana Cruz on a false lead.
  • California Doubling: The film was shot in the American Southwest, mostly in Arizona but some in California and Mexico.
  • Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: Inverted in the case of SFC Troy Barlow and his superior officer Captain Doug Van Meter. It's actually Van Meter who is the stern and hard nose one with Troy being the more laid back and easygoing of the two.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Averted with Major Gates' French friend, who is both a decorated Special Forces officer and helps the main characters transport the Iraqi refugees across the Iraq-Iran border near the end of the film.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: 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.
    Archie: No guns, because we know what they do, right Conrad?
    Conrad: They make infected pockets full of bile, sir.
    Archie: That's right. That's what they do.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Troy's bulletproof vest, which saves him from getting shot minutes later in the movie. Sadly, he's not wearing it the second time he gets shot, resulting in a punctured lung.
    • The Nerf football rigged with C-4. Conrad Vig has an entire bag of them, and Chief Elgin uses one to take out a freaking helicopter.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Chief Elgin's day job is an airport baggage handler. This comes in handy when he knows which pieces of luggage can handle the weight of the gold.
  • Child Soldier: One young boy (a rebel to be exact who looks no older than 10) was sniping Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers from a tower while the main characters retreated. The tank took care of him.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Most of the movie. Saïd in particular seems to have learned his English from some rather foul-mouthed American soliders.
  • Color Wash: Director David O Russell intentionally gave the film a bleached-high contrast look in an effort to try and reproduce "the odd color of the newspaper images of the Gulf War". Which was one of the many experimental filming techniques that were employed by Russell.
  • Colonel Kilgore: The four main American soldiers encounter an exceptionally nasty Iraqi Republican Guard officer whose establishing moment involves him ordering the execution of an innocent woman in clear view of her family. Naturally this does not sit well with Major Gates and his squad.
  • Cool Car: Saddam's stolen luxury cars, which are used in the assault on the prison at the climax of the film.
  • Cowardly Lion: Before they return to the village, Vig nervously asks if they can go over the plan one last time.
    Gates: The way this works is, you do the thing you're scared shitless of and you get the courage after you do it.
    Vig: That's a dumbass way to work, it should be the other way around.
    Gates: I know. That's how it works.
  • Deadly Gas: Averted; the chemical agent Saddam's army uses in their gas attack against the Americans turns out to be non-lethal tear gas. However it still proves effective enough to derail their escape plan and for Troy to be captured in the ensuing chaos.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Saddam's answer to the rebel uprising is to punish the villagers by depriving them of food and water so they all starve to death, going so far as to prevent a milk truck from entering a village by blowing it the fuck up with an RPG.
  • Death of a Child: The child soldier is killed by the tank.
  • Distracted from Death: Conrad dies unnoticed from a shoulder wound while everyone is tending to the seemingly more seriously injured Troy.
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: A variation is said by Specialist Walter Wogeman to Adriana Cruz when she tries to steal his dune buggy. Unfortunately for him she calls his bluff and takes his dune buggy anyways.
  • 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...
  • Dramedy: The film manages to walk a fine line between being a serious war drama and a darkly humorous comedy.
  • Dull Surprise: Troy's reaction to discovering a map in a man's ass.
    Conrad: Ugh! Hey man check it out!
    Troy: There's a document in that guy's ass...
    Walter: Ya think he ate it?
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: By the end of the adventure our heroes have been shot at, exposed to tear gas, with one of them being captured and put through a truly brutal torture process that involves electrocution and being forced to drink oil. Said hero is eventually rescued by his comrades but unfortunately one of the heroes is killed in the raid. And just as our heroes are about to be safely escort the Iraqi refugees across the Iraq/Iran border... they are stopped by the US military who arrest the heroes and have the Iraqi refugees recaptured. Thanks to some quick thinking on Major Gates part they are able to strike a deal with the US military and manage to get the refugees safe passage into Iran. However our heroes are still expected to answer for their crimes in a federal court, but thanks to Adriana's reporting they are cleared of any charges and have more than earned their happy ending.
  • Electric Torture: When Troy is captured and held by the Iraqi Republican Guard in an underground bunker. He is hooked up and electrocuted so he may "feel his captor's pain". Unlike most depictions of this trope the scene is shot in a more gritty way as you can hear Troy's teeth chatter as he clenches them in pain while the electric current flows through. Incidentally, Mark Wahlberg was shocked for real during his torture scenes, in order to add an extra layer of realism.
  • 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. Whose establishing moment involves him getting caught trading stories in exchange for sex. Which kinda soils the whole glamorous part. Averted with the rest of the lead cast, who are merely simple Civil Affairs soldiers.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Each one the four main characters gets one of these upon their introduction.
    • Troy Barlow exudes an easy laid back attitude that is at odds with his rank. And is later shown addressing a pair of Iraqi POW's in a very calm and reassuring manner.
    • Conrad Vig on the other is depicted as Troy's polar opposite. Bumbling, brash, uneducated, and when dealing with a pair of Iraqi POW's he eschews Troy's more subtle approach in favor of yelling at them while pointing a revolver in their faces.
    • Chief Elgin is by far the most professional of the four leads. His introduction has him sternly chastising his fellow squadmates to clean up their act and stop partying before the captain of the platoon arrives.
    • And lastly we have Major Gates whose establishing moment has him selling stories to a reporter in exchange for sex. Only to be caught in the act by his superior officer.
  • 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.
  • Faceless Mooks: Intentionally averted by Director David O Russel, in an effort to avoid the tiresome trend of the "faceless enemy" that is so common in most films. He made sure to give the mooks names and faces in order for the audience to better empathize with them, and not see them as faceless hordes whose sole purpose is to die in a hail of bullets.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Iraqi Republican Guard officer adopts this persona when he confronts the American soldiers, in an effort to try and persuade them to leave the rebel prisoners with them. Naturally Major Gates sees right through his facade.
  • Gatling Good: The Iraqi attack chopper that shows up near the end has one of these mounted on to it. Cue the Oh, Crap! reaction from the good guys.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: It's actually the friendly Iraqi rebels who arrive to rescue the Americans from the tear gas attack who are the gas masks mooks. Making it a rare heroic inversion.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a war movie/comedy/drama set during the Iraqi uprising at the end of the Gulf War. That is laden with social political messages, adrenaline pumping action scenes, and a healthy dose of Black Comedy.
  • Get-Rich-Quick Scheme: Major Gate's plans to steal the gold from the Iraqis. Which turns out to be much harder in practice than in theory.
  • Going for the Big Scoop: Taken to ridiculous extremes by Adriana Cruz, who is reporting on a firefight between Saddam's army and the Iraqi rebels while it is going on right behind her.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Neither the American military nor the Iraqi Republican Guard is depicted as being any more or less nefarious than the other, with both sides having their fair share of bad apples and honest working men who are only trying to do right by their country and/or provide for their families.
  • Gunship Rescue: Inverted; the attack helicopter that shows up at the climax is an enemy chopper, and its presence helps turns the tide of battle in the enemy's favor. Momentarily at least, before Chief Elgin blows it to kingdom come with a football rigged with C4.
  • Hand Signals: In a deleted scene the Americans and Iraqi rebels prepare for the raid on the prison by practicing on a fake bunker. During this exercise they use a combination of hand signals and tactics that thanks to the film-makers' military adviser are all as authentic as possible.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: The four main characters are hardly ever seen wearing their standard Army issued helmets (save for Conrad and Troy at the beginning of the film, and after that they are never seen wearing them again). This could be justified in that they are going on a "non official" operation to go and steal some gold, and thus figured that they probably shouldn't bother with official uniforms. But still, with them being trained soldiers going in to a potentially dangerous situation you'd figure that they would have enough common sense to bring along their helmets for extra protection.
  • 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).
  • Human Shield: Used incidentally by Conrad when a dead Iraqi rebel collapses on top of him. Which coincidentally shields him from enemy gunfire, saving his life. Momentarily at least.
  • I Have a Family: Troy's excuse to Major Gates as to why he wants to abandon their heist after a botched first attempt. So he can avoid any unnecessary violence and go home to his family in one piece.
    Troy Barlow: I just had a daughter Major, and if I have to shit in a bag for the rest of my life because I got shot at the end of the war than that's going to be pretty fucking inconvenient now won't it!?
  • 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.
  • Instant Drama, Just Add Tracheotomy: Troy suffers from pneumothorax (collapsed lung) so his comrades have to puncture his chest to give him tension release.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Adriana Cruz. The no-nonsense reporter who Major Gates is forced to babysit. Unfortunately for her, her escort is caught giving away her stories to rival reporter Cathy Daitch in exchange for sex, and is later sent on a false lead by Major Gates in order to keep her off his back. Her rival reporter, the aforementioned Cathy Daitch,is a more sleazy, amoral variation of this trope who isn't above using sex is a tool get what she wants and overall is depicted as being a worse person than Adriana.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Notably averted; Major Gates is Army Special Forces and his squadmates are simple Civil Affair soldiers, yet there is never any sign of disparagement between branch members.
  • 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.
  • Jitter Cam: Used to great effect by director David O Russell in an effort to give the film a more journalistic look.
  • Lighter and Softer: To war movies in general. Although the film certainly has it's dark moments, the comedic bits and overall nonchalant attitude the soldiers seem to have about their predicament softens it up compared to the usual War Is Hell type film.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: The results of a very unfortunate cow stepping on a cluster bomb.
  • Majorly Awesome: Subverted to a degree with Major Gates. Although he is a decorated Special Forces officer who is serving with Delta Force, he's also a lecherous, apathetic, and rather crass burnout case who seems disillusioned with both the military and his life. Overall not what one imagines when they think of a fabled officer.
  • Meaningful Name:
  • Mexican Standoff: A tense confrontation between the American soldiers and Saddam's army quickly escalates into this.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • Conrad, Troy, and Elgin have become quite cavalier about the whole army thing and are excited to shoot off some rounds as they ride away from the US compound. Archie sets them on a dry run before attacking the bunker. Then a cow steps on a cluster bomb right before they do.
    • 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.
    • Archie attempts to pump up the Iraqi rebels to get some free vehicles. The cheering man flatly refuses.
    Iraqi Rebel: Ahahahaha. Cannot give car.
    Archie: Alright, I guess we'll buy them.
  • Never Trust a Title: There are four main characters. Given that one of them dies, maybe that's clever Foreshadowing.
  • Night-Vision Goggles: Spoofed; the only appearance of the technology is in the hands of the laughably incompetent Specialist Walter Wogeman.
    Troy: Would ya take those fucking things off already? They don't even work during the day!
    Walter: They kinda do...
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The four American soldiers have no problem with sneaking off to go steal some gold. But just as they are about to take off with the stolen gold, they witness an innocent Iraqi woman executed in the streets as a result of their selfish actions. It's this moment that convinces them to take a detour from their heist and help out the Iraqi prisoners. Unfortunately for them, it's this one selfless act that ends up getting them into some serious shit.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Gates makes sure they get Troy back before they leave with the gold. And although they are successful in their rescue operation, Conrad is killed during the raid.
  • 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" Remark: During the interrogation/torture sequence, Saïd 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 Saïd went through in his life. Not only that, but Saïd mentions that American special forces operatives came and taught the Iraqis during their war with Iran-including torture techniques such as those he used on Troy.
  • Not What I Signed on For: Played for laughs; when Troy orders Conrad to pull a document out of a man's ass the latter bemoans about how he didn't "sign up to pull paper outta people's asses, no sir not what I signed up for".
  • N-Word Privileges: The soldiers, Conrad in particular, make liberal use of the word "sand nigger", which annoys Elgin to no end.
    Chief Elgin: I don't wanna hear dune coon, or sand nigger, or anything like that from him or anyone else.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Very much averted with Major Gates. The man swears like a sailor, mouths off to his superior officer, and shows not a single ounce of chivalry. Much to the chagrin of his superior officer.
  • Oh, Crap!: The reaction of Conrad and the Iraqi rebels when they see an enemy attack chopper coming their way.
  • One-Woman Wail: To be expected in a movie that takes place in the desert; happens toward the end.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Played with; Both Conrad and Troy are shot within minutes of each other. With Conrad being hit in the shoulder and Troy being hit in the chest. The other characters naturally tend to the more seriously injured Troy first, and thanks to this he survives. Conrad on the other hand dies within minutes, due to being infected with sepsis poisoning.
  • Outranking Your Job: At the start of the film, Major Gates' assignment is to babysit a single reporter. Which he already manages to screw up by trading the reporters stories to a rival reporter in exchange for sex.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Repeatedly and relentlessly subverted and satirized. Any and all portrayals of American patriotism are immediately turned on there head.
  • 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.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero:
    • The main characters are heard constantly using various deragotary slurs directed at Arabs (dune coon, sand nigger, towel head etc.) with no one (save for Chief Elgin, and only for those first couple of slurs that use anti-black pejoratives) so much as batting an eye. Which could very well have been Truth in Television, considering the time period and non PC attitude of the military.
    • Conrad seems to be the least racially tolerant of the main characters, and this trait that gets him into a number of heated arguments with his black squad mate Elgin, although his attitude towards race seems to have more to do with ignorance as opposed to any malice.
  • Product Placement: A Slim Jim shows up strangely enough in the hands of an Iraqi Republican Guard. Unfortunately he doesn't get a chance to enjoy it as the American soldiers/Iraqi rebels soon lay siege to the prison that he is stationed at.
  • Public Execution: See Colonel Kilgore above.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: It's explicitly stated that the Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers are only working for Saddam to provide for their families, and are then Trapped in Villainy because they know full well what will happen to them if they were to fail Saddam.
  • Ranger: Along with being a decorated Special Forces officer, and Delta Force operative. Major Gates is also an accomplished Army Ranger.
  • La Résistance: The Iraqi rebels who are shown ambushing/fighting back against Saddam's army throughout the film. Unfortunately for them much like the aforementioned trope above pointed out, this didn't turn out very well for them in Real Life...
  • Reckless Gun Usage
    • One of the earliest things we see Conrad do upon his introduction is have him point a revolver point blank at Troy's face. Later on we see him do the exact same thing this time to a pair of Iraqi POW's only to get chewed out by Troy who tells him to act in a more "professional manner". Only for him to immediately go back to pointing his revolver at another group of POW's.
    • The example mentioned above of Elgin accidentally discharging his firearm because he Pistol Whipped an enemy while his finger was on the trigger.
  • Retirony: Averted against all odds with Troy Barlow, who throughout the events in the film is shot in the chest (while wearing a kevlar vest), exposed to tear gas, captured by Iraqi soldiers, brutally tortured, shot again (this time without a vest), and still survives to go home to his wife and newborn daughter. In a tragic case of irony it's actually his friend Conrad (who self-admittedly has no family to go home to), who ends up ends up dying. The same goes for Major Gates, whose bio even mentions how he is only two weeks away from retirement, as if to cast doubt over whether or not he will live to see his retirement. He does.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: All throughout the movie Conrad is seen carrying a non Army issue "Thunder 5" revolver. A deleted scene reveals that he received it as a gift from his parents that was hidden inside a chocolate bunny.
  • Rousing Speech: Hilariously Subverted; in an effort to try and get some free cars off of the Iraqi rebels, Major Gates tries to get them pumped up by telling them that "President Bush needs them", although he does succeed in getting them roused up, the rebel leader still flatly tells him no.
    Major Gates: God bless America and God bless a free Iraq!
  • Running Gag: Throughout the movie Elgin and Troy can be heard arguing over which car manufacturer produces convertibles. This is finally resolved when an Iraqi rebel confirms Elgin's belief.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: Conrad is shown using a sawed off Remington in a montage showing the main characters day jobs back home.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: Our earliest glimpse into the lives of the soldiers involves us watching them engage in all manner of debauchery. From dancing in broad daylight in the middle of an Army camp, to rocking out to Public Enemy at night with plenty of (unauthorized) liquor. Although to be fair, the war had just ended.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Done by one of Saddam's soldiers after being shot in the hand during the raid on the prison.
  • Sergeant Rock: Subverted with Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow. Although he is a trained and capable Sergeant in his own right. He's every bit as fallible as the rest of his squad, and addresses his troops in a more polite, nonchalant manner, as oppose to the more stern and harsh way that is common for this trope. He also isn't exactly gung-ho about going into battle, and is the most reluctant about wanting to continue on with the heist after a botched first attempt. Amusingly, it's actually the lower-ranked Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin who better fits the image of the classic Hollywood type Sergeant. Stern, no nonsense, and hard as a rock.
  • Setting Update: The basic premise is Kelly's Heroes DURING DESERT STORM!. This also translates to updated stance on military and war in general.
  • Sex for Services: Used by sleazy reporter Cathy Daitch in order to get information out of Major Gates.
  • Sinister Shades: A particularly menacing Iraqi Republican Guard officer is wearing a pair of these when he confronts the American soldiers.
  • Shown Their Work: Thanks to the help of a military adviser who served during the Gulf War. Many of the details in the film, from the uniforms, gear, squad tactics are all appropriate to the setting and time period, with the filmmakers going so far as to have the actors undergo extensive training in military tactics before filming began in order to ensure maximum authenticity. A few notable details include:
    • Major Gates' patches; Airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces tabs (meaning he completed the Special Forces qualifications course), and overall appearance is exactly what a SF soldier would wear.
    • In one scene Major Gates disarms an Iraqi soldier who was threatening a women with a knife, and the hand to hand combat that he uses is the same technique that is taught and used by real life Special Forces.
    • The strange little cartoon cards that the Iraqis are seen with are accurate representations of the "surrender" cards that the US forces dropped over Iraqi forces during Operation: Desert Storm.
    • Major Gates' description of what a bullet does to the human body is quite possibly the most realistic description of a bullet wound in any Hollywood film. He explains penetrating abdominal trauma accurately; the abdomen has a number of organs with large blood supplies, and several which accommodate normally benign bacterial colonies that can become severe infections outside them.
    • Quite possibly the crowning example of this trope is how the filmmakers hired an actual anti-Saddam dissident who along with his brother had personally defaced over 300 of Saddam's murals during the Gulf War. And in an ironic twist his job was to paint the murals of Saddam that are seen throughout the film. Shown their work indeed.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Watching a pair of American soldiers charging into a village with the Beach Boys blaring in the background is quite jarring to say the least.
    • Done once more during the prison raid when amidst all the chaos Chicago's If you leave me now can be heard playing silently in the car radio.
  • 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 he's dealing with them, although he later learns to sympathize with the Iraqi locals as part of his character development. Special mention goes to him rigging a football with C4.
    Major Gates: What the hell was that?
    Conrad: I rigged a football with C4 sir.
    • Ditto for Walter Wogeman, who is depicted as even more idiotic and hopelessly incompetent than Conrad is.
  • Storming the Castle: The climax involves the American soldiers and Iraqi rebels launching a raid on a prison in order to rescue Troy.
  • 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. And he only calls his wife after his first attempt to get an operator to connect him with Army Command works about as well as you would expect.
  • Take That!: When the Americans are apprehending the Iraqi soldiers in their search for the stolen gold we get this exchange between Troy and one of the Iraqis.
    Iraqi soldier: Eddie Murphy very good American music, my friend, yes?
    Troy Barlow: No, this is not good music. Eddie Murphy is fucking terrible.
  • Title Drop: Happens when the story of the Three Kings (i.e. the Magi who gave gifts to the infant/toddler Jesus; the Bible doesn't say how many there are but tradition holds that there were three of them because of the three gifts given) is recounted, specifically taking on the opening line of the Christmas carol "We Three Kings".
    Conrad: We three kings be stealing the gold!
  • Totally Radical: A minor example. During the torture scene, Saïd continually refers to Troy as "my main man," and at one point asks him to "save us the big bummer" before Troy confirms that, no, the US will not be going on to depose Saddam. Both are rather dated slang for a movie set in the first Gulf War. Justified in two ways, first because he learned English during the Iran-Iraq war, (which ran from 1980-88) when it was likely still in style, and second there's a chance that he is deliberately mocking Barlow and the US in general.
  • Treasure Map: Found in a surrendering soldier's butt, and referred to as the "Iraqi ass map".
  • War Is Hell: Downplayed example. Although the film takes place after The Gulf War just ended and includes copious amounts of black comedy to offset the otherwise dark subject matter. The film isn't afraid to point out just how horrific some of the events during the war were. Such as when Major Gates shows the troops the charred remains of an Iraqi soldier who was buried alive, and goes on to explain some of the more gruesome tactics that were used by the military.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Ironically enough, one of the Iraqi rebels in the background can be seen wearing a rather jaunty looking American top hat, not unlike the one worn by Uncle Sam.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The Iraqi refugees completely chew out the American soldiers for the damage that they and their military have done to their country, and demand to know where is "Bush and his great army" now that they need them the most.
  • "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.
    • Chief Elgin left his job at the airport to go and work with Major Gates as a military adviser in Hollywood.
    • Troy Barlow has returned to his wife and daughter, and decides to leave behind both his office job and the military in favor of opening up a carpet store in Detroit.