Silver Chips Online

Oorah! "Jarhead" is worth a cheer

Mendes gives a deeply intense look at war

By Natasha Prados, Online Managing Editor
November 6, 2005
"You maggot! If the Marine Corps wanted you to have lint on your jacket, we would have issued you lint! Are you so incompetent that you can't deal with a little lint? How are you gonna deal with bombs? Get down and give me 50!"

Maybe those aren't the exact words, but U.S. military drill sergeants are portrayed as some of the toughest, most abusive supervisors imaginable. Yet, according to the Department of Defense, the U.S. military recruited 163,259 citizens for active duty during the past fiscal year alone, which ended on Sept. 30, 2005. Whether the rationale of these recruits to sign up is acute poverty or the simple desire to serve their country, there is no doubt that they subject themselves to the absolute authority of a severely harsh institution.

"Jarhead" gives civilians insight into the tortured, honorable, twisted and courageous minds which compose the Unites States Marine Corps. Directed by Sam Mendes, the film follows Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he joins the Corps and struggles through training.

After surviving boot camp, Swofford is shipped off to Iraq to become a part of Operation Desert Shield. While serving in Iraq, Swofford and his fellow marines fight off depression and insanity as they cope with boredom, sexual frustration and desert conditions, longing for their first taste of battle. When Swofford's platoon becomes an active part of Operation Desert Shield, as Iraq invades Kuwait, the marines are both terrified and eager at the opportunity to kill.

"Jarhead" does an amazing job of illustrating the paradoxical and horrific realities of war and its effect on those caught in the midst of combat. The movie captures the mental state necessary for marines to perform their duties, the sickening humor that comes with it and the brotherhood that emerges during and after combat.

Gyllenhaal portrayal of an enthusiastic, but confused, recruit is nothing short of superb. Throughout the film, he grapples with regret, moral dilemmas and gut-wrenching fear, while still trying to keep his cool. Anyone doubting that Gyllenhaal can hold his own as a chest-thumping, testosterone-infused soldier is severely mistaken. In "Jarhead," Gyllenhaal reveals his versatility as an actor, as he gives Swofford real dimension.

Gyllenhaal's performance is only rivaled by Jamie Foxx's as Staff Sergeant Sykes. Foxx lends his extensive talents to the challenging role, pulling himself off as a tough, demanding drill sergeant, all the while remaining human.

Despite the movie's brilliance, "Jarhead" is not your everyday, casual flick: The brand of humor in "Jarhead" might offend some audience members. Anyone with thin skin or a weak stomach might want to go for something a little lighter, because there is no doubt that "Jarhead" is a war movie to the core.

Still, Mendes brings originality to the well-explored and normally clichéd war genre. The fact that Mendes chose to make the movie revolve around the Gulf War gave "Jarhead" a fresh perspective simply because of its relevance to todays audiences. Depth is brought to the storytelling when Swofford narrates portions of the movie and tells the audience about his background via brief clips of his civilian life.

The cinematography in the film is breathtaking. Director of Photography Roger Deakins brings the apocalypse to mind in one scene and deserted ruins in another, all in an epic fashion.

The only major sub-par aspect of the film is the soundtrack. While the musical selection is not bad, there aren't enough modern songs. Mendes chose to make a contemporary movie; the soundtrack should reflect that. The Kanye West song, "Jesus Walks," featured in the preview for "Jarhead," doesn't even play until the credits.

Another discrepancy in "Jarhead" is an unrealistic scene in which a marine is accidentally killed during a training exercise. In real life, such an event would result in serious consequences, but in "Jarhead" the supervising officers appear infallible.

These inconsistencies are truly minor. "Jarhead" is a masterpiece which creates a window into the mysterious world behind the United States Marine Corps. Unlike other standard and formulaic war movies, "Jarhead" is sure to become a cinematic staple of the post-Vietnam generation.

"Jarhead" runs 123 minutes and is rated R for pervasive language, some violent images and strong sexual content.