The Three Kings

On a superficial level, the film, “The Three Kings” appears to be an action/adventure film, in which four American soldiers take on a secret mission of their own to find and steal the gold that Iraq has stolen from Kuwait. As the film progresses, the soldiers begin to learn that not everything in life is about wealth, and they change their perspective, sacrificing their wealth, in order to help the Iraqi civilians to safety.

However, it emerges, when analysed on a much more critical level, to a deeper extent than the sub plot exposes, there are, in fact, a great many more inferences that have been delivered intentionally by the director, as he attempts to convey his own ideas through the medium, of film. By conveying his ideas through this medium, he is extending his audience, as many more people will see or hear of a film than will read a specific book etc.

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Perhaps one of the most significant features regarding the inference of the director’s ideas was the fact that the director, David Russell, was not only the director of the film, but also the writer. This meant that he occupied both of the positions that, in filmmaking, have the most influential position over how the film, and any of its messages are going to be conveyed. This meant that Russell could convey the exact messages that he wanted to, without anybody else’s personal or creative inclinations diluting the way in which he wanted his messages conveyed.

David Russell, it would appear, wishes to convey his concern regarding American attitudes and values, and their seeming lack of compassion and tolerance for other cultures. He conveys his disgust at the culture of racism in the USA and the fact that the American government always seems to feel the need to intervene with everything else in the world that is happening. He condemns the way that the American portrayed the situation, attempting to glorify what they were doing. He targets what he believes to be America’s primary reason for invading Iraq, to maintain low oil prices, and to stabilise their trade route with Kuwait.

The reason as to why Russell believes this to have been America’s primary concern was due to the historical details of Kuwait. It began when Kuwait flooded the market with vast amounts of oil, thus lowering the price of oil. Obviously, to a highly developed nation such as America, there is high demand for oil, at the lowest price possible. However, Iraq, having just been at war with Iran, was bankrupt, and therefore needed the oil prices to be high, as this was their main source of income, in trading their oil with the rest of the world. Because of this, Iraq was forced, by economic devastation, to invade Kuwait. The Americans, on the other hand, wanted to maintain this trade route with Kuwait, keeping their oil prices low, and consequently, they invaded Iraq.

David Russell clearly disapproves of many of the actions, attitudes and values of the USA and I shall now examine in more detail how he uses film techniques and other methods to effectively convey his ideas.

In the opening scene of the film, we are presented with an image of about four of five armed, American soldiers, in the desert, supposedly just keeping everything under control. It does not appear that anything significant is happening, but then an Iraqi appears somewhere in the distance. The soldiers are all talking to each other, with such irrelevant conversations, such as “do you want some gum” “I think I got a grain of sand in there [his eye]” and one man is just seemingly staring into space. The other man, having seen the Iraqi, is saying, “Should I shoot this man?” The fact that these conversations are all on the same level, and the fact that there is a chance that a man could be shot, just symbolises how little Russell believes the Americans to value the lives of the Iraqis. They value it no more than asking for a piece of gum, for example.

The camera shot that the audience sees the Iraqi by, is symbolic of the American values towards the Iraqis. We are shown the Iraqi via an extreme long shot, which is used to emphasis the surrounding s and therefore decrease the significance of the subject in the shot, in this case, the Iraqi. When the soldier sets his sight on the Iraqi, we can clearly see that he is waving a white flag, a universal signal of peace and surrender. However, the soldier either doesn’t see it, or just blatantly ignores it for all of its value, a symbol of the American ignorance that Russell is condemning, thus ignoring the value of the Iraqi. He does not really know what to do, (symbolic of the lack of organisation and discipline amongst the American army), and so he shoots the Iraqi. When all of the soldiers run over to the dead man, one of the first comments that we hear if a soldier commenting that he didn’t think that he would get to see anyone shot in this war. The fact that he is more concerned about not seeing anyone get shot than he is over the fact that they have just killed another human being only serves to accentuate further, the attitude that the Americans do not value other cultures, which Russell believes in.

Throughout the film, the America is portrayed as having a complete lack of compassion and respect for other cultures. For example, near to the beginning of the film, when we are shown the American base camp, which, incidentally, appears to be more like Muscle Beach in America, rather than a military establishment in Iraq. This implies that the Americans are not there to help, but for their own self-satisfaction. The fact that they have alcohol with them is emblematic of their lack of consideration for other cultures, as alcohol is prohibited in Iraq. This point is also emphasised slightly later, when the American soldiers are disrobing the Iraqi prisoners. The fact that they are using two megaphones to convey the requirements, one speaking in English, and the other in the Iraqis native language, is supposed be symbolic of the American so-called democracy. However, this only makes the Americans lack of compassion and respect for other cultures more apparent, as it is clear that they are ignoring the language barrier; all that can be heard is incomprehensible noise.

The fact that the soldier refers to the Iraqi, as a “rag head” is representative of the racism culture that still has a very strong presence in the American lifestyle. This feeling is continued throughout the film in many other ways, for example, one of the four soldiers who make up the four American soldiers looking for the gold, Chief Elgin, is a coloured soldier, and is clearly of a reasonable standard of intelligence. One of the other soldiers, known as Vig, a white soldier, is presented as being somebody of a relatively limited intellectual capability. In other words, he is incredibly obtuse. Yet, in one of the scenes, when the four soldiers are driving to a village, in order to find the bunker containing the gold, Chief Elgin and Vig are arguing as to whether coloured people make good quarterbacks, the most influential position on the pitch, in American Football. Vig is adamant that only white people can make good quarterbacks, adamant that coloured people are not intelligent enough to play in that position. The irony of this situation is to emphasis the fact that there is still the feeling that white people are superior to coloured people in American society. The use of retrospective irony later in the film, when the soldiers are under attack from a helicopter, and Elgin throws an American football packed with explosives at the helicopter, blowing it up, is used by Russell to ridicule the American ideas of racism.

The point of racism is again emphasised when the Americans enter the bunker and find Iraqis in there with all of the merchandise that they have stolen from Kuwait. There is a television on in the background, which the Iraqis were watching, and, with a careful look, you can see that the image on the screen is a news report of when white policemen in America beat a black man. It is also echoed throughout the entire film by the constant comments from the American soldiers, such as “rag head,” “dune coon” and “sand nigger”.

When the American enter the village, they declare that they are there for the civilian’s protection and safety, which Russell uses to represent the entire lie of the American values; that they attempt to justify their own selfish motives under the pretence that they are there to help others. It is when they enter the bunker in the village and find all of the merchandise from Kuwait, that the audience realise just how rich and prosperous Kuwait is. They have technology and appliances that are of Western World standard, and the jewels etc. that the soldiers find when they find the gold serves as an indicator that perhaps it is not Kuwait that need help after all, as they are quite substantially well off. This point is extended when we see the way in which the Iraqi soldiers treat the Iraqi civilians. The civilians are controlled by fear, they are lead by a tyrannical regime and are terrorised by the soldiers. This is shown after the Iraqi rebel leader is found and released by the American soldiers. When he rushes into the village to see his family, the end result is that his wife gets shot. This is a significant point for the audience, and Russell uses it to emphasis the fact that perhaps the Americans were not invading Iraq for the right reasons.

Russell uses powerful techniques to create a feeling of exaggerated importance in this event. He uses slow motion as the woman is shot, and the noises all become very distant. This serves to exaggerate the shooting of the woman, and to focus the audience’s attention on the fact that an Iraqi soldier has just shot a civilian for no reason other than to set and example. This is used to increase the audience’s sympathy with the Iraqis, which is what Russell wants the audience to feel. He wants the audience to believe that it is Iraq that needs the help not Kuwait, and that the Americans have invaded Iraq purely for selfish and egotistic reasons.

He also tries to convey the feelings that the American have been falsely portraying the occurrences of war, through the distortion created by the media. He implies this with the use of the character, Adrianna Cruz, who is a journalist, and a five times Emmy award runner up. She is desperate to produce an award-winning story regarding the war in Iraq, and consequently, alters her story to make it worthy of winning an award. The only problem with doing this is that everything is cut and re-shot over and over again. This means that the story the American public would be receiving would not be an accurate portrayal of the war, but would be very likely to be very pro-American etc. creating support for what they believed the Americans to be doing, when in actual fact, the reality of the situation was very different. The people of America would’ve believed that the Government, through the army, were doing an excellent job of helping to liberate Kuwait, when in actual fact, it is the Iraqis that needed liberating from the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein and his army.

When the prisoner’s wife is shot, the ceasefire is broken, and the American soldier’s views change somewhat. They realise that these people need help, but Troy is still motivated purely by the selfish desire for the money. He says that they should just get out of there with the money, and leave the civilians. He is adamant that the civilians are no longer their responsibility. When he is captured shortly after they have evacuated the civilians with them, it almost acts as a way of punishing him for holding these views. He is thrown into a room by the Iraqi soldiers, and is told to change his clothes. When he finds a box full of mobile phones, the fact that he cannot get through on them to the American military is again emblematic of the disarray and disorganisation of the American army. His only other alternative is to call his wife and ask her to contact them. When he talks to her she questions him saying, “I thought the war was over” to which he replies, “well it is and it isn’t” again reinforcing the idea that the American public are not being told the whole truth, regarding the situation in Iraq.

Slightly later, when he is connected up by the Iraq interrogator to an electrical torturing device, it emerges that it was the Americans who trained the Iraqi in methods of interrogation, when they were allies. Russell uses this to convey the idea that the Americans do not think about the consequences that their actions may have on the future, as, quite clearly, their method have back fired on them now, as they are being used as a weapon against their own forces. The lighting in this scene, as the Iraqi tells Troy of how his own son was killed in his cot by an American bomb, and how his wife lost her legs, is very dark, leaving only the Iraqis face illuminated by using a close-up shot. This device is used to encourage us to sympathise with the Iraqi, again reinforcing the idea that the Americans are not there to liberate Kuwait, as it is not Kuwait that needs liberating. Then Russell makes a very direct attack on America’s motives for being in Iraq only to maintain trade routes with Kuwait, by having the Iraqi soldier pour oil into Troy’s mouth, which is ironic in the respect that Russell believes the Americans are only there to maintain their cheap oil supply.

Nearer to the end of the film, when the rest of the American forces realise that the four soldiers have gone missing, it again reflects the lack of organisation in the troops. When they locate the position of the soldiers however, it is just as they are attempting to escort the Iraqi civilians over the border, to the refugee camp; without the protection of the American soldiers, they will not get over the border. However, they are stopped by the American troops just before they can make it across. By this point in the film, the four soldiers views and values have changed, and they are now prepared to sacrifice their share of the gold in return for getting the civilians to safety. Russell uses this change in values to display to the audience what he believes American values should be about, helping others regardless of the implications it may have on yourself, and that people should not be motivated by the potential for personal gain.

The religious tone of the title conjures up images of the wise men in the bible story, as they travel, purely unselfishly to see the baby Jesus Christ, bringing him gifts. At the end of the film, the American soldiers values have changed, and they change to represent these images that are conveyed, by completing a self-sacrificial act, of giving up their hold, in return to give the Iraqi civilian the gift of refuge.

I feel that the way Russell has conveyed his opinion on American society is, to me, as a British audience, an effective way of doing so. He conveys his ideas that American society is much more flawed than is portrayed by the media. That, this supposedly democratic country still has a deep current of racism and prejudice, and a lack of consideration for other cultures running below it’s “democratic” surface. That the Americans feel the need to intervene based on purely egotistic and selfish motivations.

However, I also feel that the way he then uses the soldier’s change of morals at the end of the film to convey what he thinks the American values should be, is also very effective as well. It enables him to convey accurately what needs to be changed in American society, and what it should become.

The fact of this film is though, that the vast majority of its audience would be American. Therefore, the irony of many of the aspects of the film would be lost on them, as would the attacks on the values of American society. To an American, this film would appear to be a “Pro-America” film, and that the Americans were nothing short of heroes in the Gulf War. Due to this factor, I believe that the film is probably supposed to be used more as a subtle ridicule of the American society, rather than a dramatic attempt on the part of the writer/director to change the American values, but that it does have quite a dramatic effect when analysed on a deeper level, and serves to convey David Russell’s concerns regarding the values of American society.


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