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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 Todd LaPlace

"What is it good for? Making movies like this."
4 stars

One of the best scenes in “Jarhead” shows the soldiers blindly cheering during a screening of “Apocalypse Now.” There’s a long history of using movies to inspire allegiance to the military, often with much success. “Jarhead,” with its portrayal of the other side of war, will never get shown to troops. In its depressing depiction of Operation Desert Shield/Storm, there is an honest story trying to be told, and it’s worth spending the time.

Sam Mendes has got a jonesing for the flawed hero. In his first feature, Oscar-winner “American Beauty,” Mendes focuses on Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a contemporary suburban dad turned Cro-Magnon simpleton that’s existing only to chase his own adolescent base desire (part-time drive-thru worker, red ’70s Thunderbird, teenage cheerleader girlfriend, chemically-engineered pot). By the end, though, Lester resolves to abandon his mid-life crisis and return to his previous suburban role of husband and father (with minimal ultimate success). Mendes’ “Road to Perdition” centers on Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), an average member of the masses providing for his family by becoming an upper-branch gangster, which eventually costs the family their lives. Fearing for the life of his lone surviving son, Michael introduces the boy to a life of noble crime, stealing from his old boss’ businesses and crippling his illegal empire. Again, Michael tries (with marginal success) to leave his old life and be a decent father to his son. It’s enough to make you wonder how his own traditional home life is faring. If he’s anything like his characters, wife Kate Winslet better watch out.

It’s not surprising then that Swoff (Jake Gyllenhaal), the protagonist of Mendes’ latest “Jarhead,” isn’t quite all together. A young marine sniper, Swoff teeters between sanity and not as he sits around the Middle East for months during Operation Desert Shield. If you’re expecting him to be Spielberg-noble, riding into battle on his flawless white steed, you’re watching the wrong movie. “Jarhead” isn’t a clear white hat/black hat type of battle. Yes, Swoff and his cronies are Americans, but they’re not the type of have grieving family gathered around their sterling white headstone on Veteran’s Day. These are the type of guys that get pornographic Dear John letters. These are the type of guys that post pictures of the cheating ex-girlfriends on a full “Wall of Shame.” These are the type of guys that will shove loaded rifles in the faces of their fellow soldiers and horde charred bodies of Iraqi civilians. These are not dignified defenders of freedom. Based on the autobiographical tales of the real Anthony Swofford’s “Jarhead,” these men are just honest, true, fallible soldiers.

But before I get too carried away, none of these guys are evil either. They’re just the average citizens that are pushed over the edge by the situation they are buried in. Mirroring the Stanford Prison Experiment — in which average people were assigned the power and title of prison guards and proceeded to go nuts in 1971 — putting a collection of dehydrated, tired soldiers in the middle of the desert for 175 days with nothing to do is enough to send the men over the edge. All day every day, the men run drills in extreme heat, hydrate, give censored sound bites to American reporters, masturbate, hydrate again and clean their rifles. They’ve been emotionally broken and rebuilt as basic killing machines — their training motto is “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Without my rifle, I am nothing. Without me, my rifle is nothing.” By the time the ground conflict does start, the men are so ready to take a shot, they’re willing to march through a oil storm to get one.

“Jarhead” presents an aspect of war rarely seen by those outside the real combat experience. Psychologically speaking, the characters have been built to kill, but they’re going to rot just sitting in the sand, which may be more devastating than any actual carnage-filled battle. In the actual brawl, the soldiers are able to detach themselves from moral standards, but away from that, the soldiers are just alone with their own thoughts, their own insecurities. Gyllenhaal and his fellow actors — which include Jamie Foxx and the incomparable Peter Sarsgaard — deserve much acclaim for being able to embody the emotional scarring overloading these soldiers. Both Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard have enjoyed a plethora of critical success before this picture and “Jarhead” once again shows why. As spotter to Swoff’s sniper, Troy (Sarsgaard) and his partner are recruited to go into the active field and shoot a few rival soldiers. They take cover in an abandoned tower, set up their shot and receive permission to take out the enemy officer, only to lose their lone chance to use their rifle because their major (“Far From Heaven’s” Dennis Haysbert) doesn’t want to alert the adversary to an incoming air strike. Troy flips his sanity switch off and begs his superior to let them fire. Fulfilling his one duty has become so ingrained in his psyche, Troy needs to fire a round in order to feel a sense of whole.

The key to “Jarhead’s” success is in these small introspective moments. The failure of too many recent war films — like Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down” — is the battles become the whole movie and the characters are limited to nameless nationality stereotypes. But “Jarhead” refuses such comparisons by infusing his characters with depth…at least when it comes to old pop culture versions of Vietnam. When a helicopter flies by blasting “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” by the Doors, Swoff looks up to quip, “Can’t we get our own music?” The porn Dear John video that everyone wants to watch was attached to the soldier’s favorite movie, “The Deer Hunter.” Part of the pre-deployment training was to watch “Apocalypse Now,” which included a long sequence of cheering at the classic “Ride of the Valkyries” scene when a group of American helicopters rain chaos on a seemingly peaceful Vietnamese village. In the original film, the scene is meant to be troublesome, but the only troublesome part of the reflexive “Jarhead” sequence is watching Swoff and Troy and their comrades whooping and jumping at the screen. Does this make them bad guys? The soldiers of this war are still heroes, just not the type of guys that’ll get a heartwarming tale told of their deeds. And for that, we’re all thankful, because it’s the one key thing that makes “Jarhead” a brilliant piece of work.

I think “Jarhead” may be one of the first non-action war movies I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for more movies that show the other side of war, I recommend John Huston’s “Let There Be Light,” a government-sanctioned documentary that showed soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. The film was so against the idea of the military, the U.S. government actually shelved it for more than 30 years. Gotta those crazy pieces of American propaganda.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13464&reviewer=401
originally posted: 11/19/05 20:29:18
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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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