Director: David O. Russell
Before Black Hawk Down hit the screens we had this look at the early 90's Gulf War. While still a pretty big-budget endeavor, it succeeded where BHD failed in concentrating on the characters, the conflict, and a more realistic look at what motivates mankind (ie. greed and compassion). While some of the beauty of the cinematography is lost in its transition to the small screen, it seems to make it more focused on the characters themselves (which, in my opinion, is a good thing). It deals with some pretty serious stuff (it is a war movie, after all), but there are some overtly and darkly comedic elements scattered throughout.
The war to free Kuwait has just ended, and the ranks of displaced American soldiers are both happy it's over and glad that man-to-man fighting was kept to a minimum. While doing routine shake-downs of the locals, some soldiers stumble across a map, which they keep to themselves. They may have a chance to "recover" some of the legendary Kuwaiti gold Suddam had stolen, and think they may be able to benefit from the situation. It takes them into the true conflict happening all around them, despite the war being officially declared over.
Though it comes off as more of an action film in the trailer, this takes a very serious look at the underlying conflict of the situation in Iraq, and is even that much more poignant as we have seen the lasting effects over 10 years later with the "conclusion" of the present war. While it may be a bit preachy in some regards, there are some great ironic shots and scenes that are perhaps even more relevant now in a post-Iraqi Freedom world. I've seen this movie a few times now and I'm sure I'll watch it a few times more...
The actors themselves do the job right. George Clooney plays the disenchanted Major perhaps a little too unconventional (though not as appallingly lame as that piece of shit known as The Peacemaker opposite [surprise!] Nicole Kidman). Mark Wahlberg's acting skills are about a step above the range of Keanu Reeves, but his generally whiny demeanor is usually appropriate and actually has a decent dramatic scene or two. Most surprising to me was the good performances by Ice Cube and Spike Jonze (writer/director of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation). Last but not least (well, actually yeah kinda sorta) is an early role for Jamie "Malibu's Most Wanted" Kennedy as one truly stupid soldier. Don't be hatin'!
Great Scenes: The opening sequence had a little more impact in the theater, but it still sets up the movie quite well, with an off-kilter humorous/serious situation as a group of soldiers come across a local, and don't have much of an idea as to what to do. There's also a unique showdown in a small village, combines a great technique for showing the tension of the situation and the reserved manner that keeps it from becoming even more tragic. The style the movie is shot in may annoy some by using overexposure of the film, but WTF? Practically the entire film takes place in a desert. Do you realize how boring this could be? All I can say is if you don't like it, go puke in your hat. I must mention some good music used throughout, as well...
DVD Notes: Ho-leee Shitballer. Warner Bros. put out a single jam-packed DVD here with extras o-plenty. I ended up spending a couple extra bucks just to buy it since it was so cheap (under $10), so it's gonna take me awhile to wade through them all. There's cast & crew bios, production notes, a ten-minute doc with the set designer on the Iraqi village, behind-the-scenes documentary, 14 minute video journal from Russell, deleted scenes with commentary, interview with the director of photography, a kinda oddball interview-type thing with Ice Cube, stills, and two commentary tracks, one with the producers and one with director Russell. I listened to most of the latter and while it is a bit dry, it provides a wealth of information on the production side as well as the research and insight into the political and media-driven aspects of the film. All really nicely done.