Of Guns and Rosesrnby George McCartneyrnThree KingsrnProduced by Village RoadshowrnProductions, Atlas Entertainment,rnand Warner Bros.rnDirected by David O. RussellrnScreenplay by John Ridley andrnDavid O. RussellrnReleased by Warner Bros.rnAmerican BeautyrnProduced by DreamWorksrnand Jinks/CohenrnDirected by Sam MendesrnScreenplay by Alan BallrnReleased by DreamWorksrnSet against the aftermath of the GulfrnWar in March 1991, David O. Russell’srnThree Kings includes a disturbingrnscene in which an officer explains to hisrnmen what’s most dangerous about a bulletrnwound. Provided you survive the initialrnimpact, he coolly observes, it’s whatrnhappens inside. As he speaks, the screenrnfills with a cutaway view of a chest cavit)’,rnexposing lungs, heart, stomach, and liver,rnall blithely working away. Suddenly, arnbullet pierces the rib cage, puncturingrnthis and that on its erratic course until itrnbursts into the liver, letting loose a viscousrngreen syrup. Bile, the officer explains.rnTogether with internal bleeding,rnit will fill the chest cavity, compressingrnthe lungs until it’s difficult, if not impossible,rnto breathe.rnRussell so delights in this grisly livingrndiagram, he repeats it near the end of thernfilm. One can see why. It speaks eloquentlyrnof his overall ballistic strategy.rnHe wants his film to have the impact of arnbullet, first bowling us over, taking ourrnbreath away, and finally leaving us withrnsome troubling internal pressure whenrnthe lights go up. Accordingly, the first 40rnminutes come at us with the force of arngunshot. We are assaulted by a swift,rnnonstop montage filled with rapid-firerncamera panning that looks confused yetrnmanages to deliver all we need to know tornfollow the plot.rnWe’re first introduced to three naivernreservists, played by Mark Wahlberg, IcernCube, and Spike Jonze, all surprisinglyrneffective. Then we meet Special ForcesrnMajor Archie Gates —George Clooneyrnin a commanding portrayal of a war-hardenedrnsoldier made cynical by his government’srnaddiction to military half-measuresrnsuch as those employed in the GulfrnWar. With his organ-voiced insouciance,rnClooney perfectly captures therncurdled resentment of an officer whoserncompetency has been gallingly leashedrnby the dictates oirealpolitik.rnGates is a man shorn of his professionalrnmission. So when a treasure map is retrievedrngingerly from the backside of anrnIraqi POW, he decides to pursue a personalrnchallenge instead. The documentrnidentifies the village where Saddam Hussein’srnRepublican Guard has hidden millionsrnin Kuwaiti gold bullion. Before yourncan say “the Mother of All Wars,” Gatesrnis tearing across the Iraqi desert in a “borrowed”rnHumvee, reservists in tow. Visionsrnof Lexuses and Infinities dance inrntheir heads as one of the younger menrnsings in comic blasphemy a medley fromrnthe Christmas hymnal and Janis Joplin:rn”We three kings be stealing the gold; myrnfriends all drive Porsches, I must makernamends.” It will be an easy operation.rnGates has assured them. Out at dawn,rnback by lunch, and they’ll never have tornreport to their day jobs again.rnBut when they arrive at the village,rntheir larcenous adventure begins to sour.rnThey find the people in a state of pandemonium.rnMen, women, and childrenrnrun toward them from every direction.rnThey’re all smiling, gesturing, and chatteringrninexplicably. The remorselessrndesert sun adds to the confusion byrnbleaching the scene until it’s blindinglyrnmonochromatic. The few colors that dornbreak tiirough are so intense and the actionrnso hectic, they smear the screen unintelligibly.rnRussell’s handheld camerasrntake it all in with seemingly randomrnsweeps —right, left, up, down —untilrnwe’re as thoroughly discombobulated asrnGates and his men. Squinting painfullyrnagainst the desert glare, the Americansrnfind themselves bewildered by this riot ofrnwogs. Only slowly do they begin to sortrnthings out. Uniformed Iraqis begin tornemerge from the perimeters of the villagernsquare. Other men without uniformsrnnow appear, hunkering on rooftops.rnThen, ignoring the Americans, the soldiersrnrush forward at the sight of an approachingrntanker truck. “Nothing comesrnin,” they shout repeatedly, firing on thernvehicle until the driver loses control andrnit turns over, spilling its cargo of milk,rnthousands of gallons worth, unleashing arnwhite tidal wave that sweeps the villagersrnand die Americans off their feet. Mothersrnand children scramble frantically tornscoop up as much of the life-sustainingrnliquid as possible before it seeps uselesslyrninto the sand.rnAmid this chaos, the picture comes intornfocus. These villagers are beingrnstarved, bullied, and tortured into submissionrnby Saddam’s soldiers. Theyrnthought the Americans had come to defendrnthem, a belief perversely reinforcedrnby Gates, who reads them a statementrnsupposedly from George Bush filled withrnofficial blather about America’s commitmentrnto the people of Iraq. Having paidrnlip sendee to diplomacy, the Americansrnthen do their best to ignore these unfortunatesrnas they kick down doors andrnthreaten their way into the soldiers’ undergroundrnquarters in search of thernKuwaiti gold.rnThe entire sequence distills the GulfrnWar to its tawdr)’ essentials. We invadedrnIraq ostensibly to drive Saddam Husseinrnfrom power and thus protect Kuwait andrnthe Iraqi people from his ruthless ambitions.rnBut our real reasons were quite different.rnWe were there to stop Saddamrnfrom blocking our access to the region’srnoil supplies. Once this was accomplished,rnwe pulled out, abandoning Iraqirncivilians to Saddam’s savagery and ourselvesrnto possible terrorist attacks. It wasrnanother of those shameful adventures inrnwhich our government asks Americans tornrisk their lives for a policy so prudentiyrnlimited that it leaves the situation itrnwould remedy as bad or worse than before.rnThink Kosovo.rnSo far, so cynical. But then Russellrnsurprises us. As the Americans are aboutrnto make their getaway, a woman held atrngunpoint by a member of the RepublicanrnGuard begs them to stay. Wlien shernrefuses to stop her clamor, the soldierrnkills her in front of her daughter and husband.rnWith this, the soundtrack goesrndead. Then we hear winds sighing as thernclouds overhead speed weirdly across arnseemingly limitless powder-blue sky.rnNext we see the woman falling again andrnagain, filmed from several angles in languidrnslow motion. Finally, her bodyrnlands with a gracefully undulant bounce,rnbreaking the grim spell. We hear the unnervingrnwail of the woman’s daughter asrn46/CHRONICLESrnrnrn