By Nate Buchik
Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures
In the new film by director Sam Mendes (of 'American Beauty' fame), 'Jarhead,' Jake Gyllenhaal plays a Marine in the Gulf War who cannot cope with not killing someone. This might just give emo kids a run for their money.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 10, 2005
Based on the memoirs of a Gulf War veteran, "Jarhead" is a film about how the old techniques of brainwashing Marine recruits affect troops in a new war fought without much groundwork.
If you teach a dog to attack, but that dog never gets to meet an enemy, what will happen?
This is the question posed and answered in "Jarhead." The movie begins with Tony "Swoff" Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) at boot camp, already regretting his decision to join the Marines.
In the first couple scenes, Swoff is brutally berated by commanding officers with insults attacking every aspect of his identity. While more articulate and emotional than most of his peers, Swoff has to try and fit in when he is moved to a unit training to become a scout sniper. Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Foxx) becomes his superior, and the model marine Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) becomes his closest companion. During the training, Iraq and the U.S. begin their early-'90s tangle, and the unit is sent to Saudi Arabia.
What happens next takes up the bulk of the movie. What happens next, unfortunately, is nothing.
They wait, since their job is to guard the oil fields. The audience gets to watch them wait and meet all the typical characters in every war story: insane racist gun nut, the nerdy guy with glasses with no business being in the Marines, and the liberal.
Don't see it
4 out of 10
After 100 or so days, most of the men are champing at the bit to get a kill. Drama is created between the troops rather than against any outside force, and this makes the film somewhat interesting, but mostly boring.
Swoff becomes a cruel and disillusioned version of who he was before being sent to the Middle East when he loses his girlfriend and loses rank in the unit.
Eventually, the war begins, but Swoff and company don't get any taste of the action because aerial strikes mean none of the grunt work is necessary.
While this seems to be the most accurate dramatic portrayal of what ordinary soldiers went through during the Gulf War, I'd take the extraordinary tale of soldiers in "Three Kings" any day.
Director Sam Mendes does not match the beauty of "American Beauty" or even the mediocre "Road to Perdition" on his third feature without the help of cinematographer Conrad Hall, who died in January 2003. The wide landscape shots of the desert are one of the film's saving graces.
Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard both make the film worth seeing. Foxx hardly makes his part more than a caricature of the lifer Marine, and his scene with Gyllenhaal toward the end, in which he pledges his allegiance, is one of the film's worst.
While I like what the film says about how a lack of war can affect a soldier in a different but still terrible way, the film is rarely exciting or engaging, because there are no real heroes or villains among the characters in "Jarhead," just bored Marines.