Russell steps up to the big leagues10/10
In 1994 and then 1996, David O. Russell proved himself to be one of the few original voices in American comedy with his films SPANKING THE MONKEY and FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, respectively. He could have continued in that vein, but instead he seemed to be going mainstream with a studio film, starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube, which seemed to be an action/adventure set in the Gulf War, at least if you only saw the trailer(which left me going "Huh?"). After seeing the film, it's clear to me that Russell is now one of the major talents to emerge from the 90's, as this is a masterpiece.
As I mentioned before, the trailer was confusing, but while the movie is clear, Russell(who re-wrote a script by John Ridley, though there's a lot of contention over who exactly did what) makes clear from the beginning his intention to throw curves at us whenever he can, starting with Wahlberg asking as he draws his sights on an Iraqi soldier, "Are we still shooting at people?" He shoots the soldier anyway, and is immediately remorseful when he sees the soldier was holding a white flag. The movie goes from there to soldiers who, although in a celebratory mood, are still somewhat puzzled as to why they're there, a reporter(played well by the underused Nora Dunn) who can't help but talk in cliches, a tanker which, when shot, turns out to be holding milk, and Iraqi refugees who thought Americans were going to liberate them from Saddam Hussein and now are suffering because of it. It's this attitude which makes the otherwise normal-sounding plot - Clooney, Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze play soldiers turned thieves who end up with a conscience - play as anything but normal-sounding.
Another thing which helps is the photography(I forget the guy's name, but he also did THE USUAL SUSPECTS). Far from the clear-looking photography we got in the telecasts, this is rough, dangerous, and, just like the plot, constantly putting us off our guard.
Finally, the performances. Clooney I think has long been underappreciated not, as most people assume, because he's a sex symbol, but because he, like Harrison Ford and others of his type, make it look easy. There's nothing easy about his character here, and Clooney doesn't take the easy way out here. He doesn't coast on his charm and try to make the character likeable, but goes through the journey his character does, and even without a lot of dialogue(at the end, his face when he signals to Wahlberg and Ice Cube says all we need to know, as does their nods back). Wahlberg is fast becoming one of our better actors, and this proves it. He even finds comic potential where you wouldn't expect any. Ice Cube has had a mixed career since BOYZ IN THE HOOD, but this ranks up with that performance. Finally, Jonze has been criticized for playing a hillbilly stereotype, but the key is how he's more like a lapdog hungry for affection rather than just plain white trash, and he plays it as such. This is the best film I've seen so far this year.