** (out of 5)
November 4, 2005
Jake Gyllenhaal as ANTHONY SWOFFORD
Jamie Foxx as SGT. SIEK
Peter Sarsgaard as TROY
Jacob Vargas as CORTEZ
Skyler Stone as DAVIS
Lucas Black as KUHN
Directed by: Sam Mendes
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Maybe I’m missing something, but I just didn’t get “Jarhead.”
The trailers made more sense. At least those looked like they had a purpose. Whether or not you would agree with an anti-war movie, at least a solid anti-war movie has a point. But with “Jarhead,” I couldn’t tell whether this was supposed to show the insanity of war, the boredom of people or pay respect to the servicemen.
The movie opens with Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) going through basic training to become a marine. Taken completely on its own merits, this sequence is interesting. It shows the hell that basic training can be and the abuse that servicemen endure to become a soldier, sailor or marine.
However, after Stanley Kubrick so beautifully composed the first sequence of “Full Metal Jacket,” it’s hard not to compare everything else to it. I’m sure that this training segment of “Jarhead” was realistic to a degree, but it seemed to be just a pale rip-off of “Full Metal Jacket.”
The rest of the film follows Swofford as his platoon is shipped off to the Middle Eastern desert during the troop build-up prior to the first Gulf War. Most of the movie focuses on the marines, marking time in the sand. There are moments of excitement, but mostly we’re faced with moments of boredom as the soldiers try to stay focused over the six-month build-up.
In this part, we see a new version of the military. There’s some really blatant insubordination from the troops that is usually squashed by the senior officers. Also, this is the most homo-erotic military I’ve ever seen. I know the guys shower together, but do they always dance around in the shower like sorority girls in a porno movie? And this was before Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
We do get a taste of Desert Storm when the war finally starts, but things are over so fast, it’s like they never happened. Ultimately, Desert Storm is a tough war to contemplate on film. It’s hard to protest because it was over so fast and with so few casualties that it wasn’t a catastrophe by any means. And it’s hard to be a hawk about it because it’s just too easy to rah-rah this one.
This film is based on the accounts of the real-life Anthony Swofford, and I’m sure they’re relatively accurate and realistic. By taking us through his boredom of six months in the desert, it inevitably bores us in the process. There seems to be a message: not that war is hell, but rather not-war is hell.
The characters were generally unlikable, even the hero. In one scene, he presses the muzzle of a loaded rifle against a fellow marine because of a screw up that threw him into the nasty duty of cleaning the latrines. I’m sure that something like this could have happened, but when it did in the film, I lost all sympathy for Swofford and wouldn’t have minded if he got his butt shot off from friendly fire.
Part of the angst that Swofford feels is that he becomes a sniper in the military. When he’s sent off to the Gulf War build-up, he’s eager to get his first confirmed kills. In fact, the movie starts with his narration talking about how once you have been trained to use your rifle and have it in your hand for so long, you always think about it. However, Swofford wants to get out of the military as fast as he can. He hates it, and he hates the fact that sometimes you don’t get to shoot someone in war. That whole aspect just never fits with his character.
Maybe the movie’s point was to show us what it was like to be bored in the desert for six months. At the very least, it showed us what it was like to be bored in the theatre for two hours.
The tag line for this film is “Welcome to the suck.” Consider this your warning.