Publicity Stills of "Jarhead"
(Courtesy from UIP)

Genre: Drama
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard, Lucas Black
RunTime: 2 hrs 3 mins
Released By: UIP
Rating: M18

Release Date: 9 February 2006

Synopsis :

Based on former Marine, Anthony Swofford's best-selling 2003 book about his disorienting firsthand pre-Desert Storm experiences in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Jarhead (the self-imposed moniker of the Marines) follows "Swoff" (Gyllenhaal), a third-generation enlistee, from a sobering stint in boot camp to active duty, sporting a sniper's rifle and a hundred-pound ruck on his back through Middle East deserts with no cover from intolerable heat or from Iraqi soldiers, always potentially just over the next horizon. Swoff and his fellow Marines sustain themselves with sardonic humanity and wicked comedy on blazing desert fields in a country they don't understand against an enemy they can't see for a cause they don't fully fathom.

Movie Review:

If you're a soldier who's being deployed for battle, here a couple of tips to ease the pressure and pain.
1) First of all, Godspeed and thanks for serving and protecting the country.
2) Second, when going to war thousands of miles away, the toughest thing you must deal with is leaving behind those you love. This is why you must destroy those bonds and don't forget to say goodbye. Embolden the hatred. This way no one will miss you and you won't miss anyone. And you won't have to worry about betrayal and all that relationship garbage.
3) Grab a PSP.

Based on the 2003 memoir by Gulf War veteran Anthony Swofford, the film stars Hollywood "it" boy Jake Gyllenhaal as the book's author and narrator. The film charts Swof's course from joining the Marines to the rigors of basic training to a stint in Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. is stockpiling troops for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, circa 1990. And it's in Saudi Arabia where the action ends and the waiting begins until there is a reason to strike. Six sizzling months in the desert later, under the hawk-like eye of hardened staff sergeant Sykes (Jamie Foxx), they're all still waiting. At this point, everyone's screws have pretty much loosened, and these relentlessly trained soldiers are itching to kill someone—anyone—if only to break the stupefying boredom. They've been all pumped up with no place to go for far too long, and there are just so many more days of trash talking, sand football, rifle cleaning, and scorpion fighting these grunts can take.

Anyone expecting Sam Mendes' Jarhead to be another Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, or Saving Private Ryan will be sorely disappointed. Unlike those war films, this one's not about what it's like to fight, but rather what it's like not to fight. And that alone gives this exceptionally produced and directed drama its own unique place on the cinematic battlefield. The question then becomes, "Is this particular look at one young marine's adventures—or lack thereof—in the first Gulf War enough to qualify as a satisfying entertainment?" It's a movie that requires both patience and artistic appreciation to fully enjoy its merits, and that might just prove to be too much work for most mainstream audiences.

Directed by Sam Mendes, helming just his third feature film after 1999's "American Beauty" and 2002's "Road to Perdition" which garnered a total of 14 Academy Award nominations and six wins, he’s not bad for a beginner. Although billed as a drama, it actually comes off as a comedy for its first two-thirds. No matter what the intention, it works either way. There are a lot of truly funny moments in this film as the soldiers interact, but these moments are smartly crossed with some poignant, moving material. In my opinion, Mendes gets it right again, bringing a visually stunning and genuine story to the screen. "Jarhead" succeeds because it's a different kind of war movie. It's not about what happened in the Gulf War, but rather what didn't happen. It's about training and conditioning for an event that turns out to be completely different from what you imagined it would be.

The screenplay for the film, adapted from Anthony Swofford's memoir of the same name, recount his experiences from boot camp to Iraq and back again. Although this film adaptation can be a little long-winded at times, it still manages to work on several different levels. It's not action-packed, but that's the point. During their stint in Iraq, Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his fellow troops are eager and ready to fight. Inside, though, they're shaking. They're scared of the bombs, the nerve gas and of an untimely death. It's a sharp contrast, and each soldier handles it in his own way. They must all find ways to pass the time in the desert as they wait for the ground war to begin. These scenes are really the heart of the film. The soldiers do everything you'd expect a soldier in waiting to do. They train, play football, think about home, masturbate and talk about all the killing that's going to happen. But it doesn't happen and soon frustration sets in. All the months of training begin to form an itch that they can't scratch. One emotional scene that stood out was when Swofford becomes so disillusioned that he threatens to shoot his own friend before finally breaking down.

Nonetheless, there's such vigor and commitment to Mendes' approach to the gritty, if somewhat existential, material that even the film's long, episodic stretches of time-passing hijinks and military malaise hold your interest. Aided by a superb production team, especially cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose khaki-infused lensing is hauntingly beautiful, Mendes has created a compelling work that's as visually memorable as American Beauty and Road to Perdition.

Unfortunately, William Broyles' script adaptation is as short on characterization as it is on combat scenes, so it limits our emotional investment in Swofford and his fellow marines—and in the movie itself. We learn just enough about each of the guys to distinguish one from the other, but not much more.

It's a testament, then, to Gyllenhaal's complex, electrifying performance as the conflicted Swofford that his character feels as vivid and present as he does. True, many of his thoughts and observations are expressed in wry, well-written voiceovers that give us additional insight into the author/soldier, but it's the way Gyllenhaal fills in the cracks with a pained grimace, a soulful stare, or a hair-trigger reaction that rounds out his character and makes him so eminently watchable. With his work in recent films, and the upcoming Brokeback Mountain, he's well on the way to becoming one of his generation's most accomplished and versatile screen actors.

The rest of the Jarhead cast is impressive as well, especially Jamie Foxx as the take-no-prisoners squad leader. His brash, mesmerizing monologue about his love of military life is a standout and it makes you wish the film had more of these personal moments. As Troy, the sniper with a dubious criminal past, Peter Sarsgaard is by turns centered and mysterious, though equally believable when he lets loose. The other grunts, also fine, include Lucas Black as inquisitive Texan Kruger, Evan Jones as loudmouth hick Fowler, Brian Geraghty as the shy Fergus, and Laz Alonzo as macho Cuban-American Escobar. Chris Cooper and Dennis Haysbert also appear, in what are basically extended cameos, as a pair of gung-ho senior officers.

Though Jarhead isn't exactly an anti-war film, it doesn't fly its flag too high either, if at all. Though mostly committed to the cause—or at least to their jobs—the marines here are never 100% sure what they're really doing in Saudi Arabia. This sentiment only gets worse as time wears on and the fight to stop "Saddam Insane" starts feeling less urgent, less authentic. The shifty parallels between this Gulf War and the current war in Iraq are subtly present throughout the film, but the politics of it all are generally kept at arms' length.

Jarhead emerges as a different type of war movie. It’s not the “hoo-rah” film the previews lead one to expect. Lacking in the usual thrills and excitement of previous motion pictures about warfare, it’s not easy to watch. For those do find it their cup of tea, its performances and images will stay with you long after the theater lights come back on.

Movie Rating:

(A war movie like no other. Who knew watching men bored out of their minds would be so fascinating)

Review by Lokman B S

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