Jarhead (15)



Drama (2005)
123mins US

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx
Director: Sam Mendes
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, Swoff enlists in the Marines, where he trains as a sniper and forms a lasting bond with fellow soldier Troy, as well as a love-hate relationship with demanding platoon leader Staff Sergeant Sykes. Through the raw recruit's eyes, the war unfolds as a series of poignant and sometimes blackly humorous episodes in the scorching desert heat.

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LondonNet Film Review

The Empty Vessels
Jarhead reveals the true, individual tragedies of war...

Even the best of war movies tend to address the same issues: the horrors, the disconnection and the inhumanity. While these are all obviously harsh realities of war, it's been a while since I've seen a war movie flesh out individual experiences of war with as much clarity, humanization and beauty as Sam Mendes' Jarhead.

Jarhead, adapted from the book by Anthony Swofford, tells the story of the author's own experiences in the first Gulf War. Unlike some war stories documenting merely the brutalities of a campaign, Anthony Swofford (the author and the character) puts a devastatingly personal perspective in a place where people are conditioned to act as machines. If a U.S. Marine was called a "jarhead" because of the shape of his head and the empty vessel mentality that he was forced to maintain, Anthony's story forcibly proves that Marine Corps training can't condition personal suffering. We follow Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) from his inception into the Marine Corps. While there are the occasional stereotypes that appear in a group of raucous men (the goofball, the minority, the loose cannon, the idealist), Mendes doesn't allow the stereotypes to sit too long on the audience's consciousness. Troy (Peter Sarsgaard), Swoff's partner and spotter, morphs from violent oppressor to disinterested outsider to loyal friend. The Marines are trained to become killers; the rifle has replaced the girlfriend as a source of comfort. Once the Marines are deployed to the deserts of Saudi Arabia, life becomes a drawn-out tedium of more training, masturbation and increasing paranoia. Mendes' treats the individual dead with reverence and each life is individually mourned, each containing its own horror - rare in today's blow 'em up and watch them burn movie mentality.

The rest of the cast is similarly remarkable. Chris Cooper, in a brief appearance as Lt. Col. Kazinski, puts on a bizarre and hilarious raunchy performance. Jamie Foxx is understated but dominating as Staff Sergeant Sykes, and Peter Sarsgaard again juxtaposes quiet disconnection with inner turmoil successfully. Most notably, Jake Gyllenhaal, as the central character, is able to successfully transform early Swoff's youthful impishness to increased machismo then heartfelt sympathy through the course of the movie.

Sam Mendes, acclaimed as the Academy Award winning director of American Beauty, distinguishes between the combat war movies and the existential ones and wanted to make "a war movie about self-conscious desire, the frustration of male desires and what happens when it's not realized." Shots of war atrocities are given sombre sadness rather than shocking quantity of body count. The images associated with war brutality (i.e. the burning oil fields of Kuwait) are subverted as things take on a different meaning in the front. This movie is entirely of Sam Mendes' making and a testament to his powerful storytelling. It's important to remember the individuality and faces of the people involved in wars and ultimately, Jarhead is able to make its audience realize that.

Jackie Jou


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