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Jarhead (A Movie Review)

Updated: Dec 23, 2021


JARHEAD (2005)

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Lucas Black, Brian Geraghty, Jacob Vargas, Laz Alonso, Evan Jones, Chris Cooper, Dennis Haysbert and Jamie Foxx.

Screenplay by William Broyles, Jr.

Directed by Sam Mendes.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 123 minutes. Rated R.

With the United States deeply divided on the subject of the war of Iraq, it is no surprise that Hollywood would gaze long and hard on the subject. It is hard to make a film on a continuing war, so the movies have gone back over a decade to the last time the United States went to the country – euphemistically known as Operation Desert Storm.

The first Iraqi war has been subject of two very good films, Three Kings and Black Hawk Down. This short-lived war is also the setting for Jarhead, which interestingly does not make a moral judgment on the war.

Jarhead actually does a very good job of straddling that line. Anti-war people will undoubtedly see it as an indictment of the incompetence and tedium of war. Pro-war supporters can reasonably see it as an ode to corps, brotherhood and teamwork. Both sides would be right and both sides would be wrong.

The film features some spectacular acting – particularly Gyllenhaal as a young recruit slowly coming undone as he looks to find his place in the Corps and Foxx as a lifer Sgt. who lives the Semper Fi life.

Jarhead takes on a rather risky source material. Anthony Swofford’s 2003 book was interesting because it was a comic look at the boredom and lack of sense of the soldier’s lot. Swofford never made it into combat, that was the point of the book, he and his corpsmen were put through soul-crushing duties, cheating lovers and way too much time and testosterone on their hands. However, without Swofford’s humorous narrative tone, too many of these scenes are forced to stand or fall on their own.

The problem with this is simple. Yes, it is intriguingly subversive to show the soldier’s lifestyle as being a long series of boring duties and stringent rules. However, the trouble with illustrating the tedium of life in the field is that what quickly becomes tired for the soldiers also becomes exhausting for the viewer. We’re right with them waiting for some action – for something – to happen. A gunfight or a mine would almost be welcome to break up the latrine duties, target practice and digging of trenches. In the world of Jarhead, war isn’t hell, it’s just a drag. (11/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved. Posted: March 7, 2006.

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