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Jarhead - Review

Jake Gyllenhaal in Jarhead

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECUAL FEATURES: Feature Commentary with Director Sam Mendes. Feature Commentary with Screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. & Author Anthony Swofford. Swoff’s Fantasies {with optional commentary by Director Sam Mendes and Editor Walter Murch). News Interviews in Full (with optional commentary by Director Sam Mendes and Editor Walter Murch ). 11 Deleted Scenes {with optional commentary by Director Sam Mendes and Editor Walter Murch).

SAM Mendes describes his latest film as ‘a meditation on what makes men want to fight, what training a man to kill does to a man and how frustrating it can destroy you in a different way’.

Hence, Jarhead is a different kind of war film. Not a combat movie, or a jingoistic battle cry, but rather a cynical and often amusing look at a different side to the military and to mordern warfare.

In short, it’s a film about men doing nothing. Or to look at it from its protagonists’ point of view, it’s all foreplay and no climax.

There is a moment early on when Jake Gyllenhaal’s rookie Marine Anthony ‘Swoff’ Swofford – upon whom the film is based – recounts a typical day spent waiting for action in the desert during which masturbation, hydration and more masturbation feature prominently.

Yet as boring as watching a film about men being bored may sound, Mendes manages to keep things interesting, making Jarhead a compulsive and frequently surreal experience.

Gyllenhaal shines as the cynical recruit whose sniper team are quickly called out to the Gulf to take part in Operation Desert Shield in 1990 – months before the military finally moved against Saddam Hussein.

Together with fellow sharp-shooter Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) and their no-nonsense staff sergeant (Jamie Foxx), they prepare for the rigours of combat only to stand by and wait for months on end.

The action they do see is usually over before it’s begun courtesy of the air offensive that provided the impetus for most of the fighting.

So anyone expecting a Gulf War movie in the style of Apocalypse Now or Saving Private Ryan is set to be as disappointed as the recruits on show.

For this frequently dangles the carrot without ever really engaging with the enemy. Indeed, the enemy is boredom itself, as Swofford and co start to find themselves becoming increasingly paranoid about their role in the war effort and their absence back home.

Whose wife/girlfriend is going to be unfaithful first? And what is the point of enduring boot camp hell if there are no ‘rewards’ afterwards?

Jarhead takes its cue from films like Mash and Three Kings but lacks the cutting political edge that early word suggested it might possess.

It’s not really interested in political point scoring or passing comment on current events, but rather the effect that the military has on corroding young minds.

Yet Mendes keeps things lively by injecting proceedings with some visually surreal sequences, such as what it was like to exist with burning oil raining down upon you, or setting training montages to happy go-lucky tunes such as Don’t Worry Be Happy.

There is even the odd harrowing moment that’s usually caused by friendly fire (whether it be on the training ground or ‘the battle field’).

Underpinning it all is the fragile camaraderie that exists between Gyllenhaal, Foxx and Sarsgaard that is convincingly portrayed.

The result is a dark and often cynical experience that successfully achieves what it set out to. War is hell, for sure, but waiting for it can be equally so.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 3mins

  1. Hoorah! Jarhead rocks!

    Jimbo    Jan 14    #
  2. Watching Jarhead made me realise just how pointless the US military action was in Iraq the first time around. Not only did it leave a troubled people in the lurch, it also corroded the young minds of the soldiers who served. Swofford’s excellent book has been turned into an excellent movie by Mendes.

    Michael    Jan 18    #
  3. Am I the only to think that criticisms of Jarhead have been unjust. This is a compelling film and your review capably does it justice.

    Tom    Jan 20    #