Criticism of the First Persian Gulf War in Three Kings

I chose to write about Three Kings. The film stood out amongst because it did not involve politicians or the staff of politicians. It profiled the military and chronicled the suffering of the Iraqi people. The plot was excellent, revealing the moral transformation of Archie Gates, Troy Barlow, Chief Elgin and Conrad Vig (whom I will refer to as the four soldiers). I found the camera work effective in demonstrating the violence of war and also appreciated the choice of the Vietnam War era music that was strategically interspersed with violence. In the following paragraphs, I will go more into depth about what I just mentioned while addressing the questions in the three mandated areas of analysis on the syllabus.

The socio/political context of The Three Kings

The socio/political context can be described as liberal and highly critical of the policies of Republican President Bush. The film criticized the lack of U.S, support for the Iraqi people and the policy of bombing Iraq. The filmmakers asserted that the Bush Administration was more concerned about protecting oil resources and the wealthy people of Kuwait than the people of Iraq. The criticism of Bush was first evident in the scene where four main characters, Archie Gates, Chief Elgen, Conrad Vig and Troy Barlow witnessed the desperation of the villagers after the content of the milk truck was destroyed by Hussein’s soldiers. George Clooney’s character, Archie Gates, explained to his cohorts that Bush told the people of Iraq to rise up against Sadam, but didn’t offer the expected support. Instead, Hussein’s soldiers punished rebels by cutting off food supplies to villages. The U.S. didn’t offer help and people ended up with a lack of food. Later, when the “three kings”, Gates, Barlow and Elgin, were trying to save the lives of group of refugees by helping them cross into Iran, U.S. military superiors tried to stop them because the Gates and his cohorts were violating U.S. policy.

Bush’s policy of bombing Iraq was also questioned. The filmmakers revealed how innocent lives were affected as a result of the bombing. Troy Barlow’s captor told Barlow how his family, including his baby, died as a result of the bombing. The two characters agreed that the loss was “worse than death.” Also, Archie Gates learned that one of the refugees, Amir Abdullah, lost his businesses as a result of the bombing.

The issues and events of the late 1990s

The film had a copyright date of 1999. At George Bush, the son of the first President Bush, was emerging as a frontrunner for the 2000 presidential election. Hussein was still in charge of Iraq. There were complaints from American soldiers in the Gulf War were suffering from the side effects of the gases supposedly used by the Iraq army. The filmmakers might have feared that if George W. Bush won the election, he’d try to finish his father’s business in Iraq. The film seemed to be a statement of why we shouldn’t go back because it chronicled the suffering of the Iraqi people.

It was never proved that Hussein’s army used chemical weapons in the first war, but American soldiers have complained about neurological disorders occurring after the war. This issue was dealt with when the Iraqi soldiers fired gas capsules at the four American soldiers as they fled the village with the gold.  Conrad, the getaway driver, panicked and crashed the vehicle into a bomb while trying to find his mask. Later, Gates reassured Chief Elgin that the gas wasn’t the nerve gas Serin because they’d all be dead. Instead they agreed that it was tear gas, three times stronger than normal. I believe the filmmakers wanted to make a point that Iraq did not use chemical weapons in the war as believed. It’s an interesting point considering that the second President Bush later declared war on Iraq because of the supposed threat of chemical weapons.

The plot of The Three Kings

I liked the plot of Three Kings a lot. A redneck soldier, Conrad Vig, found a secret document in the butt of an enemy prisoner. Three other soldiers determined that it was a map to a large fortune in gold and the four made plans to steal the gold. They located and commandeered the gold, but their attempt to escape with the wealth was complicated when an Iraqi woman cried out for help. An Iraqi shot her in the head in front of her daughter and husband, Amir Abdullah, which seemed to motivate the four soldiers. They escaped with the prisoners and gold using two vehicles, but are halted by a barrage of tear gas.

Barlow was taken prisoner by Iraqi soldiers and tortured. He was also told that his captor’s wife and baby died because of the U.S bombing. Gates escaped with the refugees and made an agreement with Abdullah to help the Iraqi refugees over the line to Iran. In the end, Conrad, the redneck, died and the three remaining ‘kings” gave up the gold so that the Iraqi people could escape to Iran. The Iraqi people won to a certain extent because they escaped certain death and were allowed to enter Iran. However, they were without homes and jobs and many had lost family members. The “three kings” lost all claims to their stolen gold, but ended up rewarded with honorable discharges instead of being held accountable for their actions. The honorable discharges were a result of reporter Adriana Cruz’ story, which kept the “three kings” from being court marshaled. The “three kings” can also be perceived as winners because they underwent a change of morality throughout the course of the film. They went from caring about the gold to caring about the Iraqi people. The character of Conrad Vig lost because he died, but he had transformed from a soldier wanting to kill the “Dune Coons,” to a soldier interested in the shrines of the Iraqi people. The reporter Adrianna Cruz also won, because despite being “controlled by the military,” she found a really good story in the end. Her story about the gold had the added bonus of Iraqi refugees. Also, she prevailed over her younger, more attractive competitor who had wanted the story about the gold. The biggest losers in the film were the Iraqi soldiers. Many of the soldiers died during the shoot-outs with the four soldiers, including the Iraqi soldiers who helped the four American’s load up “Sadam’s gold.” The four American soldiers easily dominated over the Iraqi soldiers and were easily able to retrieve the gold.

The emotional impact of The Three Kings

I felt that the film had a strong emotional impact. The filmmakers were sympathetic to the Iraqi people and critical of the Bush administration. They appealed to the emotions of the audience with the use of unique camera work, choice of music and cast.

The filmmakers wanted the audience to feel revolted by the violence of war and achieved that goal by crafty camera work. Rather than merely showing men fall down as a result of being shot, the filmmakers showed the violence as it occurred from the inside of the human body to the outside facial expressions of those people shot down. The two craftiest examples of camera work showed the audience what happens when a bullet enters the intestinal tract and the lungs of a soldier. I felt particularly squeamish when Archie Gates inserted the needle into Troy Barlow’s lung. Also, the use of slow motion and blurred colors captured the drama of death by gunfire. By using slow motion, the filmmakers were able to capture the expressions of the fallen people. The expression of the Iraqi woman as she fell to the ground along with the blurred blood coming out of the side of her head will remain in my mind for a long time. The scene had a huge impact on the four soldiers and this member of the audience. The scenes of Troy Barlow imagining his family victimized by bombings also added to the emotional impact. The filmmakers effectively showed the psychological impact of violence by including that daydream sequence. Using Troy Barlow, the filmmakers demonstrated how the Iraqis felt when their loved ones died in the bombing.

 Music can be very effective in appealing to emotions of an audience. The music chosen for The Three Kings was designed to convey a message about American soldiers. I think that music helped the audience to realize the cockiness and ignorance of the American soldiers. The songs were from the Vietnam era and for me the songs invoked irony. One part of the irony was that soldiers ignored a question about the Vietnam syndrome and instead responded with a victory cheers and patriotic songs like “Proud to be an American.” I also found the choice of songs ironic by the way they were used. The first song had the lyric “I just want to celebrate another day of living.” The song was played just after Troy Barlow killed an Iraqi soldier waving a white flag. Most of the songs were celebratory with lyrics like “party all the time” and were inserted around violent scenes.

The roles of all four of the American soldiers seemed appropriately cast. George Clooney did a great job with his portrayal of Archie Gates. He was believable as the leader of the four men and as an officer whose interests evolved from sex to greed to helping others. Marc Walberg, well cast as Troy Barlow, hero to Conrad Vig. His physique and demeanor were appropriate for someone who was looked up to by another soldier. He seemed like a “big brother.” Spike Jonze did so well playing the redneck, Conrad Vig, that I emphasized with the character rather than looking down on him. The sight of Vig, wrapped up and carried by the Iraqi refugees added to the emotional impact of the scene of them crossing over to Iran. Ice Cube, as Chief Elgen, was adequate in his role. He added to the diversity of the cast and it was believable that he was from Detroit. However, I didn’t identify with Chief as much as the other soldiers. I’m not sure why.


In conclusion, The Three Kings stood out from the other films because it focused on U.S policy and military rather than on politicians and their staff. I felt the filmmakers did a great job of conveying their message. I understood that they were empathetic with the Iraqi people and critical of Bush’s war policies. They revealed the consequences of bombing Iraq—the loss of innocent lives, homes and businesses. Further, the filmmakers demonstrated the violence of war with their unusual use of camera work, which included internal views of the human body.  I liked the plot because it detailed the moral transformation of the soldiers. They went from being greedy, cocky and ignorant to being empathetic toward the Iraqi people. I also felt that George Clooney, Mark Walberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze did a great job of conveying that transformation. Finally, the music added to the emotional impact of the film because they conveyed the cockiness and ignorance of the American soldiers and invoked irony. I thought the songs were ironic because many of the songs were celebratory even though the loss of life was rampant throughout the film.