Single Person’s Movie: Three Kings

It’s 2 a.m. and you awake with a jerk, alone in your fully lit apartment and still on the couch.

It’s 2 a.m. and you awake with a jerk, alone in your fully lit apartment and still on the couch. On TV, the credits of some movie you’ve already seen a billion times are scrolling by. It feels like rock bottom. And we know, because we’re just like you: single.

Need a movie to keep you company until you literally can’t keep your eyes open? Join us tonight when we pass out to Three Kings [starting @ 1:30 a.m. on AMC]

Why we’ll try to stay up and watch it: 1999 might have been the best single year for movies in the last ten. Seriously! In fact, there is a chance it ranks as one of the greatest ever. While it might be a tough slog to find 10 worthy Best Picture candidates this year (Star Trek, come on down?), 1999 could have filled up a new-fangled Oscar ballot with ease. There was an embarrassment of riches: Fight Club, American Beauty, Election, Being John Malkovich, The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Eyes Wide Shut and The Insider. And that list leaves off movies like Boys Don’t Cry, Go, Run Lola Run, The Limey, Toy Story 2, Office Space, The Blair Witch Project and, of course, Three Kings.

David O. Russell’s Desert Storm serio-comedy doesn’t hold up as well as you might remember—in part because of a third act that gets treacley and message-y—but for large swatches of time, Three Kings is as good as any of the big boys from 1999. Mr. Russell keeps the pace moving at a ridiculously quick clip, perfectly balancing the absurdist M*A*S*H-like humor with the Bruckheimer-ian action set pieces; this isn’t Courage Under Fire we’re talking about here. That he gets great performances from the disparate cast of George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and director Spike Jonze is just gravy. Under no circumstances would anyone ever imagine these four people having chemistry together, but in Three Kings they blend like the perfect team.

After Spanking the Monkey (Jeremy Davies for life!) and Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings seemed like the film that would help launch Mr. Russell onto the A-list; his “Hal Ashby–on–an–energy-drink” style was perfectly suited to the new-wave Hollywood ascetic. Ten years gone, however, and the director is best known for his lack of output—when The Fighter with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale comes out in 2011, it’ll be Mr. Russell’s first film in seven years—and his C-word–enhanced rant against Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees. We’re still waiting for his one great film. Here’s hoping that comes around eventually.

When we’ll probably fall asleep: Like we said, the third act of Three Kings gets a little stale. So we’ll clock out a bit beforehand, at 2:45 a.m., 75 minutes into the film, after a fantastic little interrogation scene between Mr. Wahlberg’s Sgt. First Class Troy Barlow and an Iraqi solider played by Said Taghmaoui. At once reasonable and terrifying, Mr. Taghmaoui—who you know from this past season of Lost and countless other roles where he’s asked to be the “Middle Easterner with a secret”—rails against what America forced the late Michael Jackson to do to his face, with the disconnected monotone of Sir Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man (with “Is it safe?” replaced by “What is the problem with Michael Jackson?”). When it comes to “that guy” character actors, Mr. Taghmaoui will always be our “main man.”

Single Person’s Movie: Three Kings