Jarhead

 
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by:William Broyles Jr
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx, Lucas Black, Chris Cooper, Dennis Haysbert
Released: February 9, 2006
Grade: A

Director Sam Mendes has only made two films but he has a huge reputation.  His first feature, American Beauty, comfortably won the Oscar for best film.  Road To Perdition didn’t win as many awards but it was also a great movie.

Jarhead is Mendes’ latest film but for the first time, he isn’t basking in critical and public acclaim.  The film underperformed at the U.S. box-office and didn’t receive a mention during last week’s Academy Award nominations.  I read a recent interview with Mendes in which he talked possible reasons for the poor reception in America – “Fundamentally, Jarhead disobeys all the laws of American movies, and not just the political laws of American movies right now which demand on some level to tell us which side they’re on.”

I wanted to include that comment because I think it’s the perfect way to describe what this film is on about.  Jarhead is not a pro-war film or an anti-war film.  Mendes simply puts the story out there and leaves it up to the audience to make of it what they will.  This will frustrate some but I found plenty to think and talk about afterwards.

The story is based on Anthony Swofford’s non-fiction novel.  As a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, Swofford took part in “Operation Desert Shield” in 1990.  The country of Kuwait had been invaded by Iraq (under the command of Suddam Hussein) and U.S. soldiers were called.

Unlike other war films, the focus isn’t on fierce battles and survival.  Jarhead is a story of boredom.  Anthony Swofford and his team spent six months is Saudi Arabia waiting to go to war.  Until orders came through from President Bush to attack, the 500,000 U.S troops had to sit and wait.  They talked rubbish, they played football and they masturbated.

Jake Gyllehaal (Brokeback Mountain) plays Swofford and other notable cast members include Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass), Jamie Foxx (Ray) and Lucas Black (Friday Night Lights).  All get to display their prowess in the later stages of the movie when the emotional impact kicks in.  The wait affects them in different ways and some are driven to the point of insanity.  When you’re sweltering in boiling temperatures, continually following orders and hanging around testosterone-charged guys for 24 hours a day, it’s easy to lose your grip on reality.  It made me wonder how I’d handle the same situation.

So many good war films have been made and Jarhead deserves to be included amongst them.  Films like Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now are fantastic but Jarhead’s fresh look distinguishes it from the rest.