Cult Classic: Three Kings 11 years ago

Cult Classic: Three Kings

One of the least heroic movies made with the backdrop of a real-life war, Three Kings is subversive, surprising and a huge amount of fun.

One can never predict what form the most memorable movie from any real-life war will take but in the case of Three Kings, who could have imagined that the Gulf War would act as a cinematic backdrop for three upstarts who decide to pull off a gold heist during the 1991 Iraqi uprising?


Wonderfully offbeat yet extremely pointed in its accusation of the reasons behind the US' intervention, the film's reception was just as crazy as its production.

With three of the-then hottest up and coming talent in Hollywood, George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube (as far as recent success, two out of three isn't bad), Three Kings appeared to be a polished, typical Hollywood movie on the surface though it was anything but.

For example, the story by John Ridley was apparently created as a test to himself to see how quickly he could write and sell a script. Director David O Russell claims that he only saw a one sentence synopsis - "heist set in the Gulf War" - and went from there, locking Ridley out of any scripting duties and originally removing the writer's credit altogether.

Never the most easygoing of chaps, Russell was also punched in the face by Clooney during filming for verbally abusing the crew. In fairness, Russell apparently shouted: You want to hit me? You want to hit me? Come on, pussy, hit me" beforehand, so he was literally asking for it. Even writing that right now makes us want to punch him.


Another reason for the film's memorable status today is the torture administered to Wahlberg's Troy Barlow character, who when asked why the US are butting in, gives a prototypical and patriotic response, before being forced to swallow oil. Do you see what the interrogator was getting at there? Wahlberg was actually electric shocked during the scene too, as the filmmakers decided that she they had all the genuine equipment lying around, why not?

Extremely stylised at times (handheld cameras were used frequently), with an opening shot - praised by Bill Clinton afterward - that showed the impact of a single bullet of the human body, the film had a guerilla-esque approach that rendered the action more real and authentic than your standard flick.

Though O Russell may be a prickly figure, when he's got great talent in front of the screen (The Fighter), he can produce something incredible.

Subversive, surprising and impossible to take your eyes off, Three Kings is a film whose reputation grows with each passing year, especially as Hollywood begins to fall back on jingoism.


In such a world, a movie where the heroes are soldiers with only their own interest at heart seems incredible, but that's exactly why Three Kings shocked audiences at the time and will continue to do so for newcomers. Though O Russell may have received a punch during filming, it was filmgoers that received a suckerpunch upon viewing.

For more cult films, check out the Jameson Cult Film Club.