Movie Review: Jarhead

It has been a long time since a good war movie has come out. The obvious ones that come to mind – Full Metal Jacket, Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan – are among the most prominent. Though these films have set the bar high, Hollywood’s most recently released war film – Jarhead – has met the standards. Jarhead, directed by Sam Mendes, focuses on Anthony Swofford’s experiences in the Persian Gulf. From playing “Glory” on his non-existent trumpet in front of his entire platoon, to being forced to burn human waste in the hot 110-degree Gulf sun, Swofford’s account of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm is moving and will leave every viewer wanting more. Imagine every war movie you’ve ever seen. They either begin with a serious scene from boot camp or throw you right into the action. Jarhead opens up with a blank screen and a monologue. Jake Gyllenhaal, who will always be known as Donnie Darko, assumes the dramatic role of Anthony Swofford. Swofford is your typical jarhead – just a kid trying to serve his country by joining the Marines. After being subjected to intense hazing and abuse, Swofford decides he isn’t cut out for the marines. His futile scheme for escaping the Marines is interrupted by Staff Sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx), who convinces Swofford that the platoon could use someone who can play the trumpet. After being subjected to further punishment, Gyllenhaal overcomes his initial fears and strives to become one of the most elite and dangerous killing machines in the armed services: a Marine sniper. Later, tyranny erupts in the Middle East and Swofford is sent, along with his comrades, to take part in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Unlike most war films, Jarhead focuses on the soldier’s tale by highlighting the small moments. For example, Troy (Swofford’s partner, played by Peter Sarsgaard) reveals his character not by his precision on the battleground, but rather by his habits in the bunker and his demeanor while training. Director Sam Mendes, famous for his work in Road to Perdition, has created a timeless classic by fusing brilliant acting with an impeccable production staff. Staff members have worked on notable films like American Beauty, Gladiator, and Apollo 13. These guys are no amateurs. Mendes ingeniously plucked the stars from the staffs of all these films to create a juggernaut production force able to make any script a box-office-hit. The film has an all-star cast, featuring Jamie Foxx (Collateral), Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko), and Peter Sarsgaard (Garden State). Gyllenhaal fires up the screen with his dramatic acting. It’s no surprise that he was given this role, an extension of his former character, Donnie Darko. Sarsgaard truly gave a laudable performance. After seeing him in Garden State, I never could have imagined him in a war movie like this. Either way, he was exceptional. Foxx, the hard-ass drill sergeant, plays his role to perfection (nothing less could be expected from such a veteran actor). The script, based on a book by Anthony Swofford, is devoured by these actors and converted into beautiful artistic scenes with flawless acting. Roger Deakins, the Director of Photography, was a critical asset to the crew. Aiding in cinematography, it’s no surprise that Deakins was spectacular: his track record includes hits like Ladykillers, The Big Lebowski, Fargo and Intolerable Cruelty. Jarhead is an amazing film. Focusing on a soldier’s experiences in the desert, it’s also ironic, portraying how trepid the marines are during boot camp, and how blood thirsty they got while waiting months to fire one shot in the gulf. Their superiors define the war as the mother of all wars. The marines think of themselves as the hammer of god which has come to smite the wicked. After training for months in the desert, preparing for the colossal strike to take down Saddam Hussein, they are left to their own devices: masturbation, procrastination and masturbation. A rewarding aspect of this film is in its approach to these events. This isn’t a film that serves as a recruiting gimmick for the armed services or an outcry to some political injustice, evident in lines such as Troy’s response to a marine who questions the politics behind their superiors’ decisions: “[screw] politics. We’re all here. All the rest is [not important].” The utter simplicity behind this movie is the reason for its success. Jarhead raked in a whopping 30 million its opening weekend. Despite its R rating due to nudity, graphic scenes, and language, the movie already made back half of its production budget. I would recommend Jarhead to all. It was bold; it was shocking; and it was moving. Every aspect of the film was redeeming, and I walked out feeling changed. If you haven’t seen it yet, I would cut class and get to the Loop as fast as you can. Don’t forget to get a day excuse. Final Grade: 5