Jarhead (2005)

DVD Cover (Universal)
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Overall Rating 68%
Overall Rating
Ranked #815
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Connections: Jarhead

Jarhead (the self-imposed moniker of the Marines) follows "Swoff," 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... --IMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: November 17, 2005
There is not much left for a war film to do. "Full Metal Jacket" dealt with the psychological affect war has on soldiers; "Platoon" dealt with the aggression and anger that war brews amongst the soldiers; "Apocalypse Now" dealt with the insanity of war itself; "Saving Private Ryan" focused on the bravery of soldiers; and, "The Thin Red Line" was, basically, about the beauty of life and the viciousness of battle. So, what can a film like "Jarhead" bring to the table that makes it any different and any better than all of those previously mentioned classics? Unfortunately, very little. "Jarhead", however, is not trying to do anything new, or anything earth shattering. It knows what it is and it plays off that. "Jarhead" knows it is borrowing heavily from films like "Full Metal Jacket" and "Apocalypse Now", but in all honesty - wouldn't soldiers in Desert Storm probably be affected by those films? Those might have been the films that made them want to enlist in the first place. Just take a look at the scene when the soldiers are actually watching "Apocalypse Now" - look at the expressions on their faces - all the emotion and the rage and the joy. "Jarhead" is an homage to all war films, and a psychological character study on soldiers who never really get to see any combat.

This film deals with a platoon of Marine snipers who are trained to do exactly what they should know how to do best... kill. Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the central character in the film and he also served as narrator, taking us from boot camp to the sands of the Middle East, as the United States slowly gets involved in Operation Desert Shield, which eventually becomes Operation Desert Storm. Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) is Swofford's sighter and best friend, and he seems all about the war experience. He is dying to see some action, and even has a fairly intense emotional break when a commanding officer refuses to let him take out a target. Jamie Foxx is Staff Sergeant Sykes, the traditional son-of-a-bitch in charge, who shows random bursts of humor and humanity. "Jarhead" deals with these men as soldiers who have spent months and months readying themselves for killing and combat, but never get to see any. They are snipers, and the war in which they are serving is most obviously an air battle - there is just little to no use for their services. This has an emotional and psychological affect on all of them, When you are trained to kill... and kill well... that eventually becomes all you want to do.

Watching this film was like watching a series of dramatic scenes tied together by the occasional comedic scene. One of the most shocking scenes comes during a training exercise, with Foxx's character screaming at the men to stay down because they are using live rounds. One of the soldiers gets frightened and rises slightly, only to be struck in the head and killed by a live round. Another equally powerful scene comes when Jake Gyllenhaal sticks a loaded gun to the head of one of his fellow platoon members, only a breeze away from accidentally shooting him in the head. And, I have already mentioned Peter Sarsgaard's breakdown when his commanding officer refuses to let them take their shot, and opts to have the air force bomb the location instead. All of these scenes help make "Jarhead" something special, and something memorable, but there are just too many overall flaws with the film to make it a classic. I am not saying "Full Metal Jacket" and "Apocalypse Now" didn't have flaws, but... well... I don't think they did.

Here were the problems with the film: there were too many unnecessary scenes. There was no need to see the wife of a soldier having sex with her neighbor just to get back at her husband; there was no need to see one of the platoon members obviously ripping off a scene from "Full Metal Jacket" as he makes friends with a corpse; there was no need to see the Vietnam veteran getting on the bus with the soldiers at the end. Another huge problem was the ending. After they get back to the States, the film takes two to three minutes, tops, to cover way too much ground. Personally, I think they could have cut out a lot of the nonsense overseas and focused more on the lives of these men when they finally did return home. We never find out what happened to the soldier in the casket, though I guess we all had our guesses. I got so involved and wrapped up with these men overseas, and I wanted to be wrapped up with them some more when they returned home.

Director Sam Mendes is one of the best working today, and "Jarhead" is his third phenomenal film in a row. Unfortunately, it is the weakest of the three because it is too uneven in telling its story. Jake Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard were both Oscar worthy in their outstanding performances, and Jamie Foxx followed up "Ray" with yet another enjoyable character piece, but there was just something missing from "Jarhead" that wasn't missing from the classic war films. Even "Black Hawk Down" had that missing element, and that missing element was 'originality'. It's all right to pay homage to other films and to show how those films affected soldiers, in general, but there still needs to be some dash of originality. There was little to none in "Jarhead". It was a film I enjoyed watching, and a film I recommend, but not a film I would call a classic. It will likely not be remembered in the forthcoming years in the same way as "Apocalypse Now". Then again, did a film like this ever think it would. Maybe I am just a jarhead for thinking so.

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