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Overall Rating

Awesome: 16.67%
Worth A Look31.94%
Just Average: 27.08%
Pretty Crappy: 12.5%
Sucks: 11.81%

14 reviews, 60 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Wake Me Up When the Movie Ends(or begins)"
2 stars

There are any number of ways in which the new Gulf War I film “Jarhead” could have been told–it could be have a pro-military slant celebrating the speed in which the conflict ended after only four days) or it could be anti-war screed about the dangers of fighting a war for less-than-compelling reasons. It could play as an absurdist comedy about soldiers risking life and limb to develop their combat skills only to find themselves basically standing on the sidelines for the duration or as a straight-faced look at the world of war from the point-of-view of one soldier. Any one of these approaches could have made for an interesting movie but the central flaw of “Jarhead” is that director Sam Mendes keeps leaping from approach to approach in a desperate bid to find one that works. As a result, the film plays like a bunch a jumbled scenes that never find a consistent tone and when it comes to an end after two hours, it comes as a bit of a shock because we are still waiting for the actual story to kick in..

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Anthony “Swoff” Swofford, a young man who has chosen–perhaps a bit rashly–to become the third generation of his family to join the Marines even though he doesn’t really seem to be all cut out for it. (As he puts it, in one of those lines that doesn’t quite say as much as one might think, “I got lost on the way to college.”) He arrives at Camp Pendleton and goes through the rigors of basic training under the watchful eye and foul mouth of Sgt Siek (Jamie Foxx) in order to join an elite sniper team. At the same time halfway around the world, however, Iraq invades Kuwait and Swoff, along with his fellow soldiers, are sent over to Saudi Arabia to prepare and wait for the inevitable conflict to begin.

The problem is that while the military has trained its soldiers how to survive the stress of combat, they have no instructions of how to survive the stress of waiting for the combat to finally begin–especially in 100+ temperatures in a land and culture utterly alien to them. Eventually, Swofford begins to crack under the pressure of being all dressed up and with no war to go and he begins to start acting crazy. A few weeks later, the actual war breaks out and Swofford and his men are overjoyed to finally be able to do what they were sent to Saudi Arabia to do. Almost immediately, they discover to their disappointment and rage that their particular skills are completely unnecessary in what has become an air-based conflict–by the time they are ready to fight, the battle has already moved miles away. For Swofford and his fellow soldiers, to be forced to sit around and do nothing while others get the excitement and glory is worse than being caught in the middle of an actual battle–at least with the latter, they would have a chance to prove themselves under fire.

All of this sounds interesting, I suppose, but “Jarhead” never figures out what kind of movie it wants to be and it winds up coming off like the war it depicts–a lot of buildup leading to a payoff that is singularly abrupt and unsatisfying. There is a certain nerve in making a war film in which there is almost no fighting to speak of but if you are going to pull that trick (especially if you plan on selling it as a conventional war film), you had better have a clear idea of what you want to say and I never got the sense that Mendes or writer William Broyles Jr. ever quite had an idea of what they wanted to say. At various times, they approach the material with wide-eyed earnestness and at other times with irony (the most mature and responsible of the men in Swofford’s unit–a steely-eyed recruit magnificently played by Peter Sarsgaard–is about to be drummed out of the corps for lying about a long-ago indiscretion on his application) but the shifts between the two are jarring and abrupt. There is another interesting idea that pops up about the ways that popular culture have influenced and infiltrated the military mindset–the drill sergeant in the opening scenes seems to be taking his cues (as is Mendes) from Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” and we are later treated to the sight of the soldiers giddily watching the village bombing from “Apocalypse Now” and, later, preparing to screen a video of “The Deer Hunter.” Sadly, Mendes refuses to explore this potentially intriguing idea–the screening of the former is interrupted, preventing us from seeing how the soldiers react to the more sobering images later on and the tape of the latter is interrupted by a nasty surprise (though one that is still preferable to sitting through “The Deer Hunter.”) And anyone going in expecting the film to comment on our current Gulf War (which is to the first Gulf War as “Saw II” was to “Saw”–bloodier and with a higher body count but far less satisfying) will also be disappointed–the closest thing to a reference comes towards the end when someone remarks that “we never have to come back to this shithole again!”

A more important flaw with “Jarhead” is that I never believed it or any of the characters. We are supposed to believe, I guess, that Swofford is a deeply conflicted person who is unsure of why he has enlisted in the military but other than a shot of him reading Albert Camus, there is nothing here to support the idea that he is particularly deep. We get a scene in which Sgt Siek tells Swofford how glad he is to be in the Marines because it gives him a sense of purpose but there is never a point where we get any sense of that. (This isn’t the fault of Foxx, who is strong and reasonably convincing in his brief scenes.) We get comically drawn caricatures of high-ranking military personnel–a gung-ho colonel (Chris Cooper) and another commander (Dennis Haysbert) who calls Swofford from his moment of glory so that he can show off with another air strike–but they seem more like skit characters than real people. The only person in the film who actually has the spark of genuinely human behavior and emotion is the Sarsgaard character–he has a scene towards the end in which he finally blows up that is so powerful and convincing that it makes the rest of the film look more hollow than it already is.

“Jarhead” has some nice individual scenes, a couple of strong performances from Foxx and Sarsgaard, a few good lines (the best being when a convoy passes by blasting The Doors and Swofford complains about it being “Vietnam music”) and an impressive visual style from cinematographer Roger Deakins. (His images of the oil fields burning in the night, while clearly inspired by Werner Herzog’s stunning 1992 documentary “Lessons of Darkness,” have a terrifying and hallucinatory beauty to them.) The problem is that they all come off as individual moments and never tie together in any substantial or meaningful way. Forget about “Vietnam music”–this might be the first war film that I can recall where the song playing over the end credits could have been Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13464&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/03/05 23:59:00
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User Comments

10/30/16 morris campbell good acting good production values dull as dishwater 2 stars
6/21/10 Aaron Two of my grandparents and my uncle were mariens, in every way this movie is total garbage 1 stars
12/18/09 Jeff Wilder Good not great. Pacing off. But characters well defined. 4 stars
7/07/09 *Holy_J@lapeno* A straight foward movie about how desert shield/storm really was. I wanted more sniping!!!! 4 stars
8/18/08 Shaun Wallner This ones ok. 3 stars
4/25/08 Karrie Millheim I thought it was a good story and the guys are hot 4 stars
4/21/08 mr.mike Did they think being a marine would be a picnic? 3 stars
8/06/07 Hello Stranger takes another view on war. and it works. a bit tedious though 4 stars
4/18/07 Stevo UK Good picture of the horrors of war, but it was supposed to be a movie. 3 stars
12/13/06 Phil M. Aficionado Really compelling as a "slice of life as war" portrayal; excellent production values, too 4 stars
11/04/06 A Concerned Citizen It's the one war film that describes the war in it's entirety, similar to Full Metal Jacket 5 stars
11/01/06 Patsyc Not as good as I thought it would be. It was interesting to see the life of a marine there 3 stars
10/24/06 Drew G Great movie, not sure what type of people the haters are... 5 stars
10/12/06 TJ Absolutely sucked. I saw it last night for the first time. A total waste.Don't bother! 1 stars
9/21/06 Chris Hately Great film. Oh, and Bill Hicks is the best comedian of our times. 4 stars
9/13/06 Mara Frost Good movie, Jake Gyllenhaal gives the best performance of his career 4 stars
9/12/06 matt pretty funny, good visuals 4 stars
5/28/06 daveyt story about tedium and pointlessness, told likewise. Jake was good though 3 stars
4/27/06 jana newton I loved this movie 5 stars
4/26/06 Indrid Cold I guess the Gulf War was boring and pointless, but so is the movie about it. 3 stars
4/24/06 Ken Muir Too much needless profanity. Vacuous content. 1 stars
4/23/06 Ry no story.... 2 stars
4/17/06 Jung Texican Decent documentary maybe, instead a film made hollow by its empty story 2 stars
3/23/06 mike waste of time, movie about garbage and marines being gay! not cool at all 1 stars
3/09/06 Wiseman Watch Saving Private ryan instead, I really regret I bought this movie. 1 stars
3/07/06 Katie Interesting look at the life of soldiers. 3 stars
2/05/06 gladys it was a waste of time..boring!! 1 stars
1/12/06 cooler mendes was always overrated and this proves it 1 stars
1/07/06 Bob Great performances, some fantastic imagery and a nice new take on war. 5 stars
12/10/05 J.K. Claire The best movie ever about war and mind. 5 stars
12/07/05 Sharon This movie was degrading to the military. My husband is a veteran and was appalled. 1 stars
12/04/05 B. McDaniel This film sucked - Don't bother 2 stars
11/29/05 M. Ritter, Marine Wife Marines sacrifice so much for us, what a slap in the face to Marines and their wives! 1 stars
11/28/05 Phlyer2 Discredits Brave Martines-Shameful! 1 stars
11/27/05 Elizabeth S Absolutely riveting, and Saarsgard should get a supporting nom. 5 stars
11/24/05 baseball-nut Not a bad movie....I'd suggest you wait and rent it at Blockbuster! 3 stars
11/23/05 Dustin Geist It was good half way through but after about half way the interesting just dropped. 1 stars
11/22/05 Jessica Holland I absolutely loved this movie, i think it is great for people to see!!!! 5 stars
11/21/05 Kurtis J. Beard Cooper and Foxx are fantastic. Sarsgaard great as usual. Screenplay blows. 4 stars
11/20/05 Brianna Schroeter I came out wondering what it was I missed. I'm not sure if I did. It's just too easy. 3 stars
11/17/05 Judy it's really good, just not for those people that only go to watch people get blown up. 4 stars
11/17/05 MrsVoorheesBabyBoy Slow and Bloody Boring 1 stars
11/13/05 Lanie Richardson it was different, but definitely worth a trip to the theater. 4 stars
11/12/05 Todd a very different kind of war movie, but well worth a look. 5 stars
11/11/05 "K" More Anti-American BS from the director of the highly anti-American "American Beauty" 1 stars
11/10/05 wes excellent view of what marine life is actually like... a little exaggerated at times 5 stars
11/09/05 Sean COMPLETE PILE OF CRAP 1 stars
11/09/05 Linden Groves not for friends of W 4 stars
11/07/05 Jeff Hella fucking good 5 stars
11/07/05 jcjs so so; ain't no DeerHunter, Apacolypse, Platoon, Born on 4th.pretty tame barely 'WorthALook 4 stars
11/07/05 bentable zzzzzzzzzzzzzz 2 stars
11/07/05 KingNeutron Disturbing and thought-provoking. 4 stars
11/06/05 Eric Weisman,M.D. I'm surprised this one played in our local theater, I loved it. 5 stars
11/06/05 Zigga This movie was tight man! don't watch it if your ONLY expecting a Blackhawk down paprt 2 5 stars
11/06/05 Naka Nope. 2 stars
11/06/05 othree Prob a good book someone made 2 movie, funny, kinda late gettin ready 4 war their never in 4 stars
11/05/05 Marine Family This movie was awful! It portrayed Marines as idiots who had no purpose nor conviction. 1 stars
11/05/05 jeff no plot, good acting, dont really c the point of this movie!! i recommend it 4 stars
11/04/05 John Gordon What a let down, clearly written by someone who hated the Marines, Great for anit war movem 1 stars
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  04-Nov-2005 (R)
  DVD: 07-Mar-2006

  13-Jan-2006 (15)


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