Three Kings - rated - HOT! HOT! HOT!

Eat your Heart out Stephen Spielberg

This film gets my Oscar for Best Picture - and of course it isn't even a contender for Best Picture in the real Oscars.

This film says more in the first 10 minutes about the nature of war than the whole of Saving Private Ryan does. There's an image of a truck being blown up which is a great a metaphor for the stupidity of war as anything I've seen. The first words uttered by a character in the film are "Are we shooting? Indeed. Who knows?

Director David O Russell (Spanking the Monkey, 1994, a great little film about masturbation and incest which I saw at the Sydney film festival, and Flirting with Disaster, 1996) has somehow managed to go from small, art-house films to a great sprawling, brilliant war epic, in one leap. He's shot the film usng a grainy washed-out king of look which works well with the subject-matter - the film looks like it's been blowing around in a Desert Storm itself. He wrangles his cast and the stunning set-pieces well, although the film must have been hell-on-wheels to shoot.

He has the advantage of George Clooney as Maj Archie Gates, one of the 3 Kings. Clooney's strong personality and commanding presence holds things together well - using a lesser star might have meant the film had less cohesion. He also has a great sense of self-deprecating humour which is put to good use here. Mark Wahlberg is excellent as Sgt Troy Barlow, and Ice Cube is (pardong the mixed metaphor) solid as Chief Elgin. Spike Jonze is somewhat weaker as Pvt Conrad Vig. He's a bit over the top as the clown of the group, and it's also clear that he's the 4th King. Jonze directed Being John Malkovich and I gather he's a friend of the director, so that might explain the casting.

There are plenty of laughs in this dark comedy, most of which are at the expense of the USA or its consumer culture. There are plenty of grusome moments and lots of fascinating detail which serves to point up the absurdity of war. There are Iraqis who are real people, individuals with their own agendas, rather than sterotypes (even if some of them seem to be played by Indians). But above all, this is an intelligent film about war, in the tradition of Robert Altman's Mash (1970). And it's not just war - it's modern war, where you can use a mobile phone, or use medical technology , or manipulate the media, to get the result you want. But the moral issues are the same, and human nature doesn't change. War is hell, even in the late 20th century.