Film: Jarhead (2005)

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Film:

Jarhead

Director: Sam Mendes
Genres:
Distributor: Universal Studios

Based on Anthony Swofford’s excellent memoir about his experiences as a Marine Sniper in Gulf War I, Jarhead is a war movie in which the waiting is a far greater factor upon the characters than the war itself, and the build up to combat is more drama than what combat is depicted. To some viewers hoping for typical movie action, this will seem like a cruel joke. But it’s not. It’s just the story as it was written, and if you liked the book, you will probably like the movie. If you didn’t, then the movie won’t change your mind.

The movie follows the…

Reviews

Amazon.com

Based on Anthony Swofford’s excellent memoir about his experiences as a Marine Sniper in Gulf War I, Jarhead is a war movie in which the waiting is a far greater factor upon the characters than the war itself, and the build up to combat is more drama than what combat is depicted. To some viewers hoping for typical movie action, this will seem like a cruel joke. But it’s not. It’s just the story as it was written, and if you liked the book, you will probably like the movie. If you didn’t, then the movie won’t change your mind.

The movie follows the trajectory of Swofford (played with thoughtful intensity by Jake Gyllenhaal) from wayward Marine recruit (he joined because he “got lost on the way to college”) to skilled Marine sniper, and on into the desert in preparation for the attack on Iraq. No-nonsense, Marine-for-life Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Foxx), the man who recruited Swofford and his spotter Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) into the sniper team, leads them in training, and in waiting where their lives are dominated by endless tension, pointless exercises in absurdity (like playing football in the scorching heat of the desert in their gas masks so it will look better for the media’s TV cameras), more training, and constant anticipation of the moment to come when they’ll finally get to kill. When the war does come, it moves too fast for Swofford’s sniper team, and the one chance they get at a kill—to do the one thing they’ve trained so hard and waited so long for—eludes them, leaving them to wonder what was the point of all they had endured.

As directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), the movie remains very loyal to the language and vision of the book, but it doesn’t entirely work as the film needs something more than a literal translation to bring out its full potential. Mendes’s stark and, at times, apocalyptic visuals add a lot and strike the right tone: wide shots of inky-black oil raining down on the vast, empty desert from flaming oil wells contrasted with close-ups of crude-soaked faces struggling through the mire vividly bring to life the meaning of the tagline “welcome to the suck.” But much of the second half of the movie will probably leave some viewers feeling disappointed in the cinematic experience, while others might appreciate its microcosmic depiction of modern chaos and aimlessness. Jarhead is one of those examples where the book is better than the movie, but not for lack of trying. —Dan Vancini

Barnes and Noble

Based on the bestselling memoir by former Marine Anthony Swofford, Jarhead depicts the 1991 Gulf War to liberate Kuwait as an exercise in tedium punctuated by occasional bursts of savagery. Swoff (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his buddies in an elite Marine unit undergo rigorous training and are revved up by their commanding officers—Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Foxx) and Lt. Col. Kazinski (Chris Cooper)—in preparation for what they believe will be a hard-fought campaign. But as Operation Desert Shield turns into a borderline siege, member of this elite killing unit are reduced to playing football in the desert and squabbling among themselves to burn off the adrenaline. “All dressed up with nowhere to go” is how you could describe the plight of Swoff and his bloodthirsty buddies, whose energies are gradually dissipated in often self-destructive ways. Operation Desert Storm finally unfolds in the film’s final 30 minutes, and the crew marches northward into Iraq only to encounter bodies roasted by air power and burning oil wells, rather than the expected ground-level combat. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) doesn’t grind any ideological axes with this engrossing film; instead he focuses on the absurdities of Swofford’s experience as a sniper whose deadly skills are rendered superfluous by whiz-bang smart bombs. Standouts among the impressive ensemble cast are Peter Sarsgaard as Allan Troy, Swoff’s more mature partner and mentor, and Foxx, who finds the humanity in a Marine Corps lifer to whom this is just another mission. Mendes borrows a little—especially in the boot-camp sequences—from such war films as Full Metal Jacket, but for the most part his is an original, unique vision of armed conflict in the modern age. He’s less concerned with the wounds to soldiers’ bodies than with those to their psyches, and that makes Jarhead something offbeat and special.

Related Works

Album:Jarhead: Original Soundtrack

Jarhead: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Thomas Newman

For his third collaboration with director Sam Mendes (after American Beauty and The Shawshank Redemption), composer Thomas Newman has come up with one of his finest scores. The music mixes modern atmospheric quasi-rock touches with Middle Eastern influences (with particularly great success on the tracks “Welcome to the Suck” and “Zoomies.”). The latter manifest themselves in both the beats and the instrumentation—the credits include soloists on exotic instruments such as the bowed cumbus (a type of banjo-like lute) and the processed xaphoons (a sax…

Book:Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles

Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles

Anthony Swofford

Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead is the first Gulf War memoir by a frontline infantry marine, and it is a searing, unforgettable narrative.

When the marines—or “jarheads,” as they call themselves—were sent in 1990 to Saudi Arabia to fight the Iraqis, Swofford was there, with a hundred-pound pack on his shoulders and a sniper’s rifle in his hands. It was one misery upon another. He lived in sand for six months, his girlfriend back home betrayed him for a scrawny hotel clerk, he was punished by boredom and fear, he considered suicide, he pulled a gun on one of his fellow marines, and he was shot at by both Iraqis and Americans. At the end of the war, Swofford hiked for miles through a landscape of incinerated Iraqi soldiers and later was nearly killed in a booby-trapped Iraqi bunker. …[more]

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