Review: Jarhead

Posted by: Dean Kish  //  November 4, 2005 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Movie Reviews 

There is an old saying that states, "There is nothing more dangerous than a bored Marine." That saying unto itself perfectly describes the new war film, Jarhead.

Jarhead is directed by Sam Mendes, the man behind American Beauty and Road to Perdition. In both of those films, Mendes was commenting on the American ideal in some way shape or other. In Jarhead, he decides to turn his social look at warfare and the men engulfed in it.

Jarhead follows Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal), who enters the US Marine Corp on the eve of Operation: Desert Shield. Swofford signed up because the marines have been part of his family for generations and Swofford's father served in Vietnam.

Swofford quickly begins to hate the Corps; that is, until his Staff Sergeant (Jamie Foxx) introduces him to sniper shooting. Swofford is hooked and it seems to be the only thing he was ever good at. His life seems to have purpose. Swofford quickly becomes one of the best and is teamed with his spotter, Troy (Peter Sarsgaard).

Then the war comes and Swofford wants nothing more than to see some action. But it's a different kind of war, a war Swofford may end up battling within himself more than with some enemy in some foreign land.

Jarhead reminded me some of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, except it was a lot more toned-down and it was a film more about the inner-workings of a marine's mind than the shock of Vietnam and the tragedy that gripped marines in that war.

I do have to admit, I loved the way a lot of this film was shot. The photography and attention to detail is brilliant, but I wouldn't expect anything less from the director of Road to Perdition.

My biggest problem with the film as a whole is that I couldn't relate to any of the characters in the piece. If you have no military training and have no real desire to do so, then how does this film work for you? It just doesn't.

I really tried to relate to the central character, but found him so unapproachable, even when Jake Gyllenhaal was giving such a wonderful performance. There was no common ground, unlike previous characters from other war films like Charlie Sheen in Platoon, Mark Wahlberg in Three Kings, and Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now.

Maybe it was hard to relate to these characters because for almost 80% of the film, they are bored out of their skulls. A bored man with a gun, well, that sounds safe. Are we supposed to feel pity because this man can't destroy another human being's life? I thought not.

You know, in some respects, the whole film seems like one giant allegory to what is impotence. A man, his gun, his insecurities, and his slowing, under-developing mind. Sound familiar? (3 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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