a critiQal film review Jarhead (2005)

Plot: Anthony "Swoff" Swofford (Gyllenhaal) is a new recruit in the Marines - but he can't figure out why he ever signed up. As his unit passes from Boot Camp to Operation: Desert Shield, they discover that most of this war will be about waiting, not killing. Now, with the threat of war looming tantalizingly close on the horizon, Swof must do his best to combat the boredom any way he can - before the waiting drives him crazy.

Reviewed
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  • ...despite a director who is obviously uninspired, the actors band together to create something decent, if not exceptional.

I’ve been wanting to check out Jarhead ever since hearing the memorable refrain from Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” during a preview.

I know, a song does not a movie make, but the publicity spewed forth by the Hollywood machine made this look like it was going to be a war film that would sit beside such classics as Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Platoon (1986) with ease – but geared toward my generation, and our War in the Sand.

When I heard Sam Mendes was helming the film, however, it gave me cause for pause – after all, I had to shut off his last film, The Road To Perdition, partway through since it was so awful. He did have the eclectic American Beauty under his belt as well, however, so I decided to give him a second chance. But, when I discovered the film was totally different from any classic war film, would it be a pleasant surprise, or is Jarhead strike two for Mr. Mendes?

Jake Gyllenhaal has performed memorably in smaller films like Donnie Darko (2001) in the past, showing he really can act, and it’s not all just Hollywood magic. He proves that again in Jarhead, as he perfectly showcases the mental strife he goes through as he deals with life in the Marine Corps.

Peter Sarsgaard also gives a very good performance in Jarhead. His character tends to keep his emotions in check until, finally, he reaches his breaking point and explodes. It’s a very subtle performance for most of the film, and he comes across as the most realistic image of the film.

The rest of the characters in the unit are largely ignored, as the movie tends to focus on Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard, and just sort of groups the rest of the unit together. Jamie Foxx also does a decent job with the role he’s been given, and is able to showcase a little of the acting chops we found he’s been hiding this whole time in Ray (2004). It seems that since Ray (2004) became such a success, he seems to have fallen into the special guest star of the acting business – he shows up to attach his name to the film, than disappears for most of the remainder of the film. It’s a little sad, as it seems to just be a marketing ploy by the companies to add another well-known name to the list of stars.

Dennis Haysbert and Chris Cooper have very little more than walk-on roles, unfortunately, so don’t get a chance to show the audience much of what they can do.

Since it’s based on the novel by Anthony Swofford (which he wrote after his experiences in Desert Shield), Jarhead tells it like it really happened over in Iraq. Sure, most viewers have heard about it, or seen the news back then, but this film allows a more intimate portrait of the Marines fighting for their country in a war that saw them spending a lot of time waiting, and very little time fighting. In the film, even though Swof and his unit are in the desert for 179 days, they spend less than 4 of those days fighting. The rest of the time is spent waiting…and fighting off boredom.

Jarhead is a totally new look at war, and it shows a much more intimate glance of the soldier than most war films ever do. Since the troops don’t know what is in store for them, they tend to jump at shadows, as their fear of dying is dragged out and intensified the longer they sit and wait.

For those of you worried that this may be the latest in the recent string of anti-war films, don’t worry. This film is intentionally left unbiased, so that the viewer can form their own conclusions about the film. While it’s refreshing to watch a war film that doesn’t have an underlying message, it also gives the film a very documentary-like feel that some viewers may not enjoy.

Most of Jarhead‘s biggest faults lie with it’s publicity campaign more than anything else. The previews build it up to be something it isn’t (nor wants to be), and many viewers may walk away extremely disappointed. However, if you go in thinking this is a documentary, you may surprise yourself when you end up liking it more than you thought.

Even though the director is obviously uninspired by the storyline, the actors of Jarhead band together to create a film that comes out better than you might think.

Unfortunately, that lack of vision turns Jarhead from something truly memorable into just another film – despite it’s realistic depiction of life in the Marines at that time.

1 Comment

  1. you can always say that Kanye West is a good singer but he will never be as good as michael jackson *`-


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