With hardly any body parts flyin', no political agenda, no who's-going-to-die-next tension of any kind, some may be disappointed Jarhead isn't a typical war movie. But make no mistake, the film is about war--and it'll still get under your skin.
Part Full Metal Jacket, part Platoon, part Three Kings, Jarhead-- based on the memoirs of Gulf War veteran Anthony Swofford--examines what happens when men, primed for war, are thwarted from ever seeing any action. We follow Marine sniper Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he goes through the usual demoralization and the ultimate camaraderie with the other guys in the unit. When the big moment comes, they are ready to bring Saddam Hussein down. But once they get to Saudi Arabia, instead of going immediately into combat, they wait. And wait. And wait some more, stewing in their own testosterone. It's really not their fault these Marines want to shoot someone, anyone, even a camel, if they have to. The thrill of war has been branded into them--and it's really hard to stop that momentum. Hoo-rah!
Gyllenhaal is having a good year. With a stellar performance in Proof, as well as his already Oscar-touted turn in the upcoming gay cowboy flick Brokeback
Mountain, the young actor continues to show his mettle as one of Hollywood's emerging talents. In Jarhead, he's pumped, pissed but still oh-so-pretty as the tightly wound Swofford, who effectively broods over being gypped out of a chance to shoot his rifle. Jamie Foxx, too, turns in another memorable supporting turn as Swofford's sergeant, who's not quite An Officer
and a Gentleman's Louis Gossett Jr. but close enough. Then there's Peter Sarsgaard, who should finally get some Oscar recognition as Troy, Swofford's loyal, hardnosed sniper-scout partner. Melting down after Swofford and Troy are denied a hit, the actor gives one of those Oscar clip moments--and sums up the movie in the process.
The aesthete Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty), who is more known for filming a plastic bag floating around in the air, would at first seem like an odd choice to helm something hardcore like Jarhead. But he is actually a nice fit. Amid all the alpha male bonding, there are breathtaking shots of burning oilfields, oil-covered horses wandering the desert and sand. Lots of sand. But what keeps Jarhead from being a masterpiece is its plodding nature. Even though the Gulf War was basically a non-war, watching a bunch of revved-up soldiers do nothing but get drunk, naked and wear Santa Claus hats over their groins isn't necessarily the stuff of which Saving Private Ryan is made. But as Swofford tells us, "Every war is different. Every war is the same." Jarhead shows us why.