While high-tech U.S. specialists fought, career soldier Archie Gates marked time in his Gulf War base camp. But now it’s time for action. Gates and three other restless Americans decide to raid a bunker holding a stash of gold stolen by the Iraqi army. Get in, get out, get rich, be back in time for lunch: the plan couldn’t be easier. George Clooney portrays Gates, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze are his fellow commandos and Nora Dunn plays an ambitious TV newswoman in this acclaimed film that by turns is a war movie, an antiwar movie, a surreal comedy and a powerful drama of human compassion – all written and directed with exhilarating style by David O. Russell . From start to finish, “Three Kings rules” (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today).
In movies, tone can be everything, especially when the intent is to balance humor with pointed seriousness. Or when crossing a heist film with the tropes and politics of the war film genre. Fortunately, 'Three Kings' manages tone sublimely, along with its other achievements in acting, scripting, directing, and sound design.
Set in the final hours of the Persian Gulf War (Iraq Part 1), three American Army personnel find a treasure map to hidden Saddam Hussein bunkers where there is a stash of gold stolen by the Iraqi Army. It should be a simple, quick job, the type of heist that will change all their lives for the better, but stealing gold is only the first step in a journey that will have them trying to make a personal difference for the local people trapped under the thumb of a cruel dictator.
Visually, the film is a blast, with bright widescreen vistas of desert sands and blue skies -- in its 1999 debut, it was as unique as 'Saving Private Ryan' the year before. But process isn't the only thing this film has going for it, of course. We also have to tip our hats to some other distinctive details, including insert shots of wounded body cavities in what is surely a precursor to the 'C.S.I.' franchise. And then there are the great quiet moments where Mark Wahlberg is thinking of his wife back home while being interrogated by an Iraqi soldier, they're quiet, simple, and beautifully humanizing for two men on opposite sides of a personal and national conflict.
In the acting department, George Clooney, Wahlberg, and Ice Cube are all spot on (does anyone else miss the overly enthusiastic, nice guy thing Wahlberg used to do in the late 90s?). Despite the film's unique visual stylization and use of humor, the characters portrayed are all real and nuanced. A band of merry man-boy rogues who grow from selfish womanizers and potential-thieves into men with consciences, men who see a larger picture. Furthermore, the script is smart too, and the less famous actors do a wonderful job giving a voice and layered depth to Iraqi victims, villains, and revolutionaries alike.
Through smart scripting, unique direction, top-notch production values, and layered acting, we start with a fun, escapist heist movie, and end with a brief look at the complexities of war with characters we empathize with on all sides.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Three Kings' comes to Blu-ray on one dual-layer 50GB disc, and does not appear to be region-locked (though it has only been tested in Region A). Popping the disc into your player takes you immediately to a simple still-image Main Menu.
'Three Kings' debuts on Blu-ray with a bold and accurate VC-1 1080p (aspect ratio 2.40:1) transfer, one that poses quite a challenge when trying to pen a review. On one hand, we have a bright, vibrant, blemish-free film, which represents the filmmakers' unusual and unique look. Further, the added resolution of Blu-ray provides a version of this film that is the best it has ever looked for home entertainment. Detail and textures for sets, props, and desert locations are rich. The bleached, processed colors, and warm tones are also generally striking and will shine on HDTVs. Yet, the film's intended stylization accentuates resolution-reducing grain, crushed blacks, and creates situations where blue skies turn white, and skin tones shift color palettes regularly. Oddly enough, really dark scenes (such as an earlier one lit by a black light) and warm-filtered scenes tend to be the clearest.
So where to draw the line? Overall, 'Three Kings' looks great on Blu-ray, remaining accurate to its original theatrical exhibition, and this is the best it's ever looked, but these filmmaking techniques tend to reduce resolution and contrast if not hanbdled carefully when transferred to HD.
Defaulting to an English DTS-HD Master Aduio 5.1 track, 'Three Kings' is a fun, active surround sound experience that works just as well in a quiet subtle moments as it does in the film's more traditional action movie setpieces.
Dialogue is perfect and balanced, handling both Wahlberg's higher tones along with the low gravel notes of Clooney and Ice Cube. The music, a selection of period and classic tunes, though front heavy, mixes well with other elements. Gunshots and other sound effects pop with sharpness and clarity. LFE is always ready to support the environment -- music and effects wise -- with booming missiles, mortars, and other explosions. Surround sound panning is enveloping from left to right as well as front to back (check out the sequence where they escape the town in a Humvee and van). A very strong track that holds up to much newer releases.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment also provides Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. In the subtitle realm launguage covered include English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH, Italian SDH, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Mandarin (Simplified), Norwegian, Romanian, Russian, and Swedish .
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment continues its catalogue trend of porting nearly all the special features previously released on Special Edition DVDs. As one would expect from decade-old interviews and featurettes, they are all in standard definition. Missing from the 2000 'Three Kings' DVD release is the DVD-ROM content. Overall, these special features remain a solid, informative collection, but lack the depth of some better packages. Given how much the world has changed, it might have been nice to include a 2010 perspective on a 1999 movie made about 1991 Iraq.
'Three Kings' is a unique film with bold visual styling, a funny and pointed script, and fine performances from everyone involved (look at Wahlberg after his torture experience). On Blu-ray, it's an eye-catcher that has never looked this good at home, though the film's original production qualities don't necessarily embody and embrace all the technical dynamics of high definition. The sound design is both subtle and epic, with roaring explosions, clear dialogue, and precise surround mixing. For fans of the film, find your proper price point and pick this up. For those who have never seen 'Three Kings', you really should. It's a fun movie where characters grow dramatically and honestly, and despite the middle east war setting, it doesn't sink in its own politics.