In today’s NY Times, David Edelstein acclaims Three Kings a great movie, and unambiguously anti-war: I agree with the former point. Obviously, the director David O. Russell meant it to be anti-war, but I came away from the film sickened not by the Gulf War – though I am disgusted by the individual acts of brutality – but by the fact that we didn’t finish it, that we left Saddam in power, that we abandoned the rebels who rose against him at our behest.
People always point to Bush 1’s incredible poll numbers during the Gulf War and then marvel that he lost the election a year and a half later, blaming the economy for the loss. The economy doubtless played a part, but I believe he also lost because people were dissatisfied by the war’s irresolution, and especially the fact that we let people down simply to appease our allies.
- THE Iraqi flourishing a white rag and a gun at the United States Army sergeant is far away, a speck on top of a mound in the middle of a flat, sun-bleached desert. Is he about to lay down his weapon or to fire it? The sergeant calls to his buddies: “Are we shooting people, or what?” In the absence of a firm answer – one soldier is busy removing a grain of sand from another’s eye, one dumbly repeats the question – the sergeant takes no chances. He shoots the distant Iraqi in the neck.
This is not a moment from a recent, potentially spurious Iraqi surrender, but the overture to David O. Russell’s 1999 movie “Three Kings,” which begins in March 1991, just after the first gulf war has officially ended.[NY Times]
One of the grimmest lessons of war is shoot first, ask questions later: war is brutalizing, dehumanizing, grim, and often arbitrary in its individual, granular acts. There is no doubt about this, and it is important that we be reminded of these grim facts, BUT that still doesn’t change the necessity of war upon some occasions, including the current one. It is a crime and a disgrace that we didn’t finish the first Gulf War, and a permanent stain upon our karmic record that we abandoned the freedom fighters – all the more reason to complete this war and live up to our responsibilities in the aftermath.
- “Three Kings” is about a new way of seeing war. A $50 million studio film with major stars, it’s a combination heist comedy, conversion melodrama and combat thriller; but the genre conventions are merely a springboard for Mr. Russell’s true subject.
Again and again, he uses color, sound and surreal interpolations to break through the viewer’s movie-fed, CNN-filtered, rock-‘n’-roll-fueled dissociation. With its jarring mixture of tones, “Three Kings” was not a box-office blockbuster. But it looks more and more like a classic.
Agreed, but art is not life: art informs life, art deepens life and hopefully our understanding of the human condition, but you still gotta do what you gotta do. No matter how tragic war is on a micro level – and every death and injury is a tragedy of its own – this still does not change the reality and imperatives on the macro level, and governments must think and act on the macro level – it’s their job.
This exemplifies Russell’s aims and approach:
- There are no glorified gunshots in “Three Kings”: Mr. Russell has said that he wanted every bullet to matter. In the film’s most notorious scene, Gates explains to his trigger-happy men what happens when a person is shot; and Mr. Russell demonstrates with a surreal close-up of a bullet plowing through soft tissue, the cavity filling with lime-green bile.
….”Three Kings” is not the first anti-war movie in which opposing soldiers have recognized themselves in one another before pulling the trigger, but it’s the most brilliantly original in its eye for the warriors’ common consumerism. The Iraqis in “Three Kings” are not disciples of Al Qaeda, with its fundamentalist hatred of liberal Western materialism. One of Mr. Russell’s chief satiric points is that American and Iraqi soldiers browse through the same catalogs. An Iraqi officer trying to escape from the smoke-filled bunker with a huge pile of blue jeans isn’t so different from the Americans lugging bullion in Louis Vuitton bags, except in the scale of his ambition.
But the regime they are defending invaded a neighboring country, used WMD on its own people and others, defied the international community, and had to be crushed – unfortunately, it was only disabled and allowed to limp on to no one’s satisfaction or benefit, save for the wretched regime itself.
This does not speak to me against war when necessary, but against the immorality of half-measures and the moral, ethical and practical requirement that we finish what we have begun. This time we must do it right.