Vital Signs

Of Guns and Roses

Three Kings
Produced by Village Roadshow Productions,
Atlas Entertainment, and Warner Bros.
Directed by David O. Russell
Screenplay by John Ridley and David O. Russell
Released by Warner Bros.

American Beauty
Produced by DreamWorks and Jinks/Cohen
Directed by Sam Mendes
Screenplay by Alan Ball
Released by DreamWorks

Set against the aftermath of the Gulf War in March 1991, David O. Russell's Three Kings includes a disturbing scene in which an officer explains to his men what's most dangerous about a bullet wound. Provided you survive the initial impact, he coolly observes, it's what happens inside. As he speaks, the screen fills with a cutaway view of a chest cavity, exposing lungs, heart, stomach, and liver, all blithely working away. Suddenly, a bullet pierces the rib cage, puncturing this and that on its erratic course until it bursts into the liver, letting loose a viscous green syrup. Bile, the officer explains. Together with internal bleeding, it will fill the chest cavity, compressing the lungs until it's difficult, if not impossible, to breathe.

Russell so delights in this grisly living diagram, he repeats it near the end of the film. One can see why. It speaks eloquently of his overall ballistic strategy. He wants his film to have the impact of a bullet, first bowling us over,...

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