Screenwriter/director David 0. Russell spent 18 months exhaustively researching the
Gulf War and its aftermath before writing Three Kings. The unorthodox filmmaker of the
critically acclaimed features Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster felt
compelled to have a complete understanding of this historical landscape before setting it
on its ear.
"When I started investigating the war I only knew the official story-that we went
to the Middle East and kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. But when I looked at it more
closely, I saw that Hussein was left in power and George Bush encouraged the Iraqi
civilians to rise up against Hussein and said 'We'll help you do it.' And the people did
rise up, and we didn't support them. ..and they got massacred by their own army,"
"an interesting backdrop for a story"
"I thought that this would be an interesting backdrop for a story about a band of
soldiers who go into this surreal, corrupted Iraqi atmosphere after the war. They think
Iraq is littered with cell phones, luxury cars and booty stolen from rich Kuwait, and they
want to steal something for themselves. But they suddenly find a situation that completely
confronts their humanity and demands that they re-think what they're doing and who they
"Almost everything in the film is true," continues Russell. "Saddam did
steal all the gold from Kuwait, and it was missing for a long time. When he had to return
it, some was missing. Many American soldiers in Iraq didn't get to take part in the war
there, yet they were called heroes. And many American soldiers were dissatisfied about
leaving Saddam in power and seeing him beat up his own people."
Producer Charles Roven was impressed with Russell's take on the basic material.
"The story could have been told as strictly an action-adventure film, but David
turned it into a dramatic story with a lot of action and a tremendous amount of comedy, a
distinctive David Russell kind of comedy," says Roven.
"David always takes reality and puts a funny twist on it; he just has an
off-center perspective on things. For instance, when Vig is about to plant a bomb inside a
vent, he gets a splinter in his finger. You know, the thing we never count on is that
splinter." Producer Paul Junger Witt, who developed the original project and then
approached David 0. Russell to write and direct, adds, "David is a complex and
original thinker. He juxtaposes the horror of war with a uniquely dark humor and sense of
adventure. He has made an extraordinarily exciting film which actually portrays the
reality ofmodern warfare, in which civilians are dying in greater numbers than
Producer Ed McDonnell describes Russell's script as "very unusual because it takes
these four guys' perceptions, tears down their attitudes and rebuilds them . . . Many of
the American soldiers were completely ignorant of the culture, politics, religion or
lifestyle of the Iraqi people when they first went to the Middle East. Their attitude made
it hard for them to respect what the war was really about in Iraqi terms. David's story is
about the journey that a handful of these American soldiers made when their ignorance was
replaced with understanding."
While doing his research on the film, poring over books, news articles and
documentaries on the subject, Russell also met Sergeant Major Jim Parker, a soldier who
further confirmed the actions of Archie Gates, and who became one of three military
advisors on the film. Like the real-Iife Parker (who passed away while production on the
film was underway), Archie Gates is a Special Forces officer. Parker fought in Vietnam, El
Salvador and the Gulf War, and he told Russell two stories which together form the essence
"When I was stationed in Vietnam," said Parker, "I risked my life
through a long war that I knew wouldn't affect any change in policy there. So I wanted to
take something back with me; I felt entitled to go home with something to show for my
dedication. Five guys and I knew about this six-ton gold Buddha, and we decided to steal
it. And we did. But we kind of underestimated its weight, and while we were transporting
it on a five-ton wrecker, it broke free, and we lost it off a bridge in the Perfume River.
Unfortunately, there was just no way of retrieving a six-ton Buddha from the river."
Parker also felt a sense of helplessness while in Iraq after the Gulf War cease-fire.
"I saw a full U.S. Army colonel in tears one night because he was born to be a good
guy and soldier, and he was standing with all his weaponry while, right across a river, he
was watching this incredible slaughter of Iraqi civilians by their own army. And there
wasn't a damn thing he could do about it because official policy said 'The war is over;
our job is done here,"' said Parker.
"I thought it was so different and so smart." George
After reading the Three Kings script, George Clooney was deeply impressed by the role
of Archie Gates, a cynical career soldier getting ready to retire. "I called up David
0. Russell and expressed an interest in being involved with the project," says
Clooney. "I followed David to New York and back, lobbying for the role. I thought it
was so different and so smart. It was a dark comedy; a strange action film and an
off-kilter drama all rolled into one. And in a weird way, it had elements of several great
films like Lawrence of Arabia and Schindler's List because in all these films you start
out doing something for mercenary reasons and personal gain, and eventually you do what's right."