Three Kings (1999)

three-kings

Three Kings is a war film that’s decent yet formulaic and easy to forget.

The film follows Archie Gates (George Clooney), Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) and Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) as they look for a stash of gold after finding a secret map lodged in a prisoner of war’s anus – the premise is removed from reality to an extent where it loses credibility as both a war film and a piece of drama. The synopsis on the Blu-Ray case says that Three Kings is ‘a surreal comedy and a powerful drama of human compassion’. That is the problem with the film, it strives to be two things at once and ultimately fails in succeeding at either.

The foundations of its trite, formulaic narrative are laid in the film’s early moments. Gates stresses that once they get their gold from the bunker they’re getting straight out of there, but naturally their swift plan goes awry when the men’s conscience throw them into a union with the noble Iraqi rebels and a bloody conflict with Saddam Hussein’s army. This is second-rate Rambo territory, yet it gets over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.

There are moments of style and surrealism, for example there are several scenes that show what happens to one’s innards when a bullet passes through them, the effects are terrifically grisly and macabre. The first gunfight is also in a strange, choppy slow motion that’s silent apart from loud, single gunshots. However, when the tension, of which there is some I admit, is broken by the sound of American and Iraqi rifles, there is a palpable sense of safety amongst the Americans; despite the overwhelming numbers of Hussein’s troops, I never felt that the Three Kings were truly in any danger. Even when Troy is captured and subjected to moments of nasty torture, I wasn’t particularly bothered because I knew he’d be rescued. It is Troy’s capture that, with a few exceptions, signals the steady decline of the film.

Jean Baudrillard said that ‘the Gulf War did not take place’, referring to how the United States-led coalition engaged in a war of safe distances with vastly superior technology. Baudrillard also believed that the media coverage was mere simulacrum, a sanitised recreation of events that ignored Iraqi suffering and championed US objectives. Seasoned journalist Adriana Cruz (Nora Dunn) is a personification of this, she’s depicted as being self-centred and interested only in her career rather than her subject. There’s a scene where she cries at the sight of oil slathered animals, however it’s quite apparent that she’s really mourning the absence of a good story.

Baudrillard’s notions are corroborated in exchanges between Troy and Iraqi Captain Said (Said Taghmaoui) that serve as the film’s main moments of war moralising. With Troy bound to a chair and wired with electric cables, Said tells him that his son died in the bombing of Baghdad, asking Troy how he’d feel if his daughter was killed in similar circumstances, a thought that he acknowledges as sheer hypothesis ‘Very nice for you bro, she’s safe in Arizona without the bombs and concrete’. The impact of this scene is intensified by cutaway clips that visualise their dialogue of war and death; despite Said’s torture of Troy, the scene highlights fundamental similarities between the two men, giving Said humanity. Indeed, the film succeeds in giving many of the Iraqi characters a sense of identity. Despite of all this, I felt the film was following the well trodden path of Hollywood war moralising in a rather hackneyed manner.

After what feels longer than 110 minutes, the film confirms just how formulaic it is when its farcical story is wrapped up so very neatly, it sucks out any modicum of credibility that may have remained. What’s left is a film that is by no means terrible but a rather mediocre affair with the odd flash of political commentary and explosive spectacle that has been done better elsewhere. I shouldn’t be too surprised by its mediocrity, after all who talks about Three Kings anymore? It certainly hasn’t entered the pantheon of great war films, it didn’t make the impact that The Hurt Locker did. Many would forget that the director of Silver Linings Playbook (okay) and American Hustle (hideously overrated) once made a war film, and I may do too.

64%

 

American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho

A funny, solid adaptation with a perfectly realised interpretation by Christian Bale.

Christian Bale delivers a superbly realised interpretation of Patrick Bateman; his performance has already become iconic. The nuances of Bateman’s voice, which has an air of arrogance and comical sincerity, are identified by Bale and expertly delivered; Bale’s performance is one of my all time favourites. The truly original narrator, endlessly quotable script and brilliantly dark, idiosyncratic humour have created a large following; it’s the proverbial cult film.

The film follows Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street executive in the prime of his life who is surrounded by equally affluent and aesthetic contemporaries. He is achingly vapid and appears not to have a sincere relationship with anyone, not even his ‘supposed fiancé’ Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon). In Bateman’s world, everything is for surface value, even his job, which he continues with because he ‘wants to fit in’. As the strain of his lifestyle begins to overwhelm him, Bateman begins to indulge in his violent urges.

The film is adapted from Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 controversial novel of the same name. As anyone who has read ‘American Psycho’ will testify, there are passages that are simply unfilmable; the film was always going to be toned down in comparison. However, I feel the film has been neutered somewhat, I feel the film is lacking a visceral edge, it nails the satire, but it isn’t quite dark enough.

As the novel progresses, Patrick Bateman becomes increasingly psychotic and depraved, he descends into the depths of madness, and this isn’t quite captured in the film. As sordid as it sounds, I do believe the film should have been crueller, darker; it should have put more emphasis on the depersonalisation and sadism of Bateman. There is one moment concerning an axe and a raincoat which is thoroughly entertaining and memorable, however it borders almost on slapstick, which it certainly didn’t in the novel. The violence rightfully didn’t enter exploitation cinema territory, I wouldn’t wish for gratuity. But, then again, how do you define gratuitous? At what point does a film or book become gratuitous? These are questions that were at the forefront of my mind when reading the novel, and I think it’s very hard to answer.

Despite this, it is a good adaptation; Harron and Turner’s script is sharp and overall makes good use of its difficult source material. For instance, the film incorporates the book’s music chapters to great comic effect; Bateman expressing his admiration and laughably deep analysis of Genesis, Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and The News to prospective victims. Through these scenes the viewer witnesses the lengths of Bateman’s vapidity.

It is a rather difficult film to wholly appreciate and absorb on initial viewing, which is good, because I feel ‘American Psycho’ has much replay value; I have revisited both the book and film countless times. Much like the novel, the film polarised audiences, and it doesn’t surprise me. When viewing for the first time, one must appreciate Bret Easton Ellis used a large helping of hyperbole to convey his message of greed and superficiality, and also a good deal of surrealism. The film isn’t entirely rooted in reality. The way in which Bateman’s associates repeatedly forget each other’s names and identities and how Bateman’s actions become questionably implausible may confuse or deter the viewer. However, some would say that in our world of revolting socialites and vacuous celebrity and fashion culture, the extent of American Psycho’s hyperbole is becoming increasingly dubious in places.

‘American Psycho’ is a peculiar creation. Many people get it and love it, however I’m sure many would be perplexed by it, maybe completely disappointed by it. I am biased, but I know that I am one of many people who fully appreciate ‘American Psycho’, part of a large group who will know what you mean when you say ‘I have to return some videotapes’. Some won’t like or appreciate it, and that’s no detriment of the viewer’s, but if you do, then I think you’ll find yourself revisiting the film and picking up a copy of Ellis’ compulsively readable novel. However, regardless of whether you like it, I can guarantee that you’ll never hear Phil Collins’ ‘Sussudio’ in the same way again.

90%