Three Kings and The Kingdom

It's a bit of a surreal exercise for me to consider just how long our country has had military dealings in the Middle East. I was in a baseball card shop on a rainy afternoon in John Day, Oregon when we heard the first field reporting from Kuwait over the radio. We heard air-raid sirens from the reporters describing the aerial mayhem that was Operation Desert Storm.

I was thirteen.

For over half of my life (and yes, I know we had close dealings with many countries in the '70s and '80s, but I'm talking occupation), the United States has maintained a close relationship to this region of the world. We're into their politics (yesterday the NBC Nightly news reported on a non-binding congressional vote to split the country into thirds--Shia, Sunni and Kurd; why are our leaders voting on splitting up Iraq?), their culture (you want to sell a book? set it in the middle east...) and their resources (there was a recent scuttle-butt in the news over British, American and French rights to develop refineries in Southern Iraq).

It makes sense that the major events of our times should find their way onto the big screen. I think movies help us analyze and communicate our experiences and the body of creative work that will blossom from the misery and anguish of the 9/11 tragedy will only continue to grow in its scope and beauty. I think when United 93 (a masterful film) and World Trade Center (good) came along, they offered an opportunity for catharsis for many in this country.

And so I wonder how audiences will react to another of our darkest subjects--conflict in the Middle East--when The Kingdom is released this weekend. The trailers are riveting and the ensemble cast has a lot of strength. Chris Cooper gave a fantastic (and under-appreciated) turn in this year's Breach and I'm excited to see if Jamie Foxx can build on his great performances in Collateral and Ray in this vehicle.

The plot is a bit of a re-tread. An explosion rips through an American housing compound (horrifying in the trailer) and a team of military specialists sneak into Riyadh to search for the bomber. They are met with territorial issues over jurisdiction with the local authorities.

Will someone in law enforcement please tell me why there is always such a pissing match over jurisdiction! Am I the only one that's tired of watching feds and state troopers and local police all grumble about whose damned crime scene it is?


But it should set up an interesting cultural contrast as we watch western and eastern methods collide in the interest of answers and justice. Think about these contrasts:
  • Abu Ghraib with taped beheadings on the intenet.
  • CNN with Al Jazeera.
  • Bunker busters with car bombs.
This movie could be great. Or it could represent a wasted opportunity (Jarhead).

I think a very good film that underscores some of our country's confusion about our time spent in the middle east is Three Kings. Stylish and fluidly paced, Three Kings is the story of a quartet of enterprising soldiers that decide to loot Saddam's kingdom. The film is a commentary on our country's intentions for the nations of the Middle East (I withhold my opinion on that matter--maybe another day) and is at times hilarious and at times heart breaking. I think Clooney gives a very fine performance, and this is the film in which Mark Wahlberg really cut his teeth and showed he could hang up there in the big leagues.

It was the first film I looked at that used the CGI effect of following the bullet's path through a human body's organs (CSI owes it big-time--all three versions), and one need only look at David O. Russell's (he's listed as the writer, but he did direct Three Kings) filmography to appreciate the level of craft that the he brings to this film.

I'm going to look at The Kingdom tomorrow, but I'd appreciate any of your impressions if you folks get a chance to view it over the weekend also. Please drop by the comments section below...

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